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September 25, 2004 Saturday
HEADLINE: CBS Stands By Claim of Bush National Guard Payoff
Faced with the second major controversy this month about its reporting on President Bush’s National Guard service, CBS News on Friday defended its report that President Bush had used $3 bills to bribe Texas Air National Guard officials in 1973.
The latest dispute erupted after the CBS News program “60 Minutes II” reported earlier this week that Bush had used several thousand $3 bills to buy the silence of National Guard officials who were questioning whether he had met his service obligations. The program featured color photocopies of some of the currency allegedly used to pay the bribes.
Conservative critics on the Internet immediately cried foul, claiming that there was no such thing as a $3 bill, and some news organizations later quoted “experts” as expressing doubt that such a denomination ever existed.
Claims were also made that the bills were “doctored” versions of recent $5 bills. Some of the bills, while containing 3’s in each corner, bear the text “FIVE DOLLARS.” The bills contain portraits of former President William Jefferson Clinton that appear roughly one centimeter left of center on the face of the bills.
The right-wing critics contend that the Treasury Department did not begin printing currency with left-of-center portraits until the mid-1990s. They also argue that Clinton’s portrait would not have appeared on currency in 1973, 20 years before he became president.
The critics also assert that the copies of the bills were produced by color imaging and printing methods that weren’t available three decades ago.
CBS has declined to say where the bills came from, but has said they came from “solid sources.”
On Friday’s “CBS Evening News,” anchor Dan Rather said that “no definitive evidence” had emerged to prove the currency was not authentic.
“As with the earlier memos, if any definitive evidence comes up, we will report it,” Rather said.
The show broadcast an excerpt of an interview with Terry McAuliffe, a currency expert, who said that the $3 bills were genuine. In Friday night’s report, McAuliffe said, “I’ve handled a lot of cash in my life, and I can’t say that I’ve never seen a $3 bill. These bills look real to me. But if they aren’t real, then I’m sure Karl Rove had something to do with them.”
The CBS report stated “with absolute certainty” that the disputed currency could have been produced by the government in the early 1970s.
According to CBS, its sources in the United States Bureau of Engraving and Printing had confirmed that the government had the capability of producing $3 bills in 1973. Rather said that “Treasury officials acknowledge that the government was able to print a ‘3′ just as easily as it could print a ‘1′, ‘2′, or a ‘5.’”
Independent experts consulted by the Amalgamated Press appear to share this view. A leading practitioner of numerology said that “the number ‘3′, like the other Arabic numerals, has been around a long time.” According to the numerologist, who requested anonymity, the number ‘3′ dates back to at least the 6th century AD, and perhaps earlier. “There’s no question the United States government was aware of the number before 1973 and easily could have put it on legal tender,” she said.
The CBS program also pointed out that several of the documents found in Bush’s official National Guard files used the number ‘3′. The number appears, for example, in the date “1973,” the year some of the documents were created.
“These documents demonstrate conclusively that the number ‘3′ was available for use by the government in the early 70s,” said CBS’s Rather, who reported both the Friday segment and the earlier “60 Minutes II” piece.
Noting that Clinton was born in 1946, CBS’s consulting experts also stated that it was entirely possible that the future president could have posed for a portrait before 1973.
Nevertheless, the network’s right-wing critics continued to deny the possibility that the $3 bills were real.
One blogger’s online post exclaimed: “It’s RIDICULOUS that we’re even DISCUSSING the possibility of a $3 bill. Haven’t you ever heard of the phrase “queer as a $3 bill”? It only makes sense because there is NO SUCH THING as a $3 bill!!!”
Responding to this claim, a CBS spokesman said, “The credibility of our news organization should not be called into question by the homophobic rants of people in pajamas.”
Reached by telephone late last night, the blogger declined to comment on whether he was wearing pajamas.
–George Conway is an attorney in New York City who is familiar with the default settings in Microsoft Word.