By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Major General Bobby Hodges places a neat stack of newspaper clippings next to two decks of playing cards, the gear of a bridge aficionado. The clips are heavily highlighted. There are photos in the stack, too. One hazy black-and-white shot shows a ground crew shoving a delta-winged F-102 fighter. The canopy is open. The pilot is visible in the cockpit.
Hodges piloted the F-102 in Vietnam while in the Texas Air National Guard. He flew 51 combat missions from South Vietnam and northern Thailand, escorting B-52 bombers and intercepting enemy aircraft during a 90-day tour known as Palace Alert.
But among his most challenging battles has come not against a tenacious pilot but against a dogged broadcast network, CBS News. Hodges was one of the sources the network used to validate a series of 30-year-old memos allegedly written by the late Lieutenant Colonel Jerry Killian hinting political favoritism was exerted to sanitize President George W. Bush's military record in the Texas Air National Guard. Hodges insists the network never showed him the documents and he never authenticated them. When he finally did get a peek at them a day and a half after a 60 Minutes broadcast highlighting the memos aired, he was convinced they were fakes. "It didn't take me but a minute or two to realize that Jerry Killian did not write these," he says. "No way."
Hodges, 74, who retired from the Texas Air National Guard in 1989 and lives in Arlington, says he was first contacted by CBS on the evening of September 6, two days before the 60 Minutes broadcast. Hodges says that during a telephone conversation 60 Minutes producer Mary Mapes read him small excerpts from the memos, among them portions relating to Bush's missed physical. "I said, 'Yes, I remember talking about his physical, that he missed his physical,'" Hodges says. "Everybody knew he missed his physical...I agreed that we had talked about the physical, which gave her authority to say that I authenticated all four memos."
Mapes also read Hodges portions from a May 1972 memo relating to Bush's missed drills: "Phone call from Bush," reads the purported Killian memo. "Discussed options of how Bush can get out of coming to drill from now through November." Hodges says he confirmed to Mapes that Bush was gone from May to November 1972 to work on a campaign in Alabama, and that officers in the Guard discussed it and gave him permission to go.
But when he realized CBS cast his confirmation of contemporaneous conversations as document authentication, he protested. In a September 12 article, The Dallas Morning News quoted CBS News anchorman Dan Rather stating that CBS offered to show Hodges the documents. "We wanted to take the documents to him and do an interview, and he declined to do that," Rather said, adding that Hodges "said that the documents were--quote--familiar to him, and that Killian did indeed feel the way that the documents expressed."
But Hodges maintains CBS never offered to show him the documents, which he believed to be handwritten. Instead, they offered to interview him on the air for the Wednesday 60 Minutes broadcast, which he declined. Hodges also disputes Rather's contention that the documents were familiar to him. "They say I'm familiar with them because they read them to me," he says. "To me, they wanted somebody to say yes to something so that they could say they were authenticated."
Hodges takes issue with another Rather quote that appeared September 11 in The Washington Post. "In an interview, Rather stressed that CBS had talked to two people who worked with Killian in the Texas Guard--his superior, retired Major General Bobby Hodges, and his administrative assistant, Robert Strong--and both described the memos as consistent with what they knew of Killian," wrote the Post's Howard Kurtz. "Hodges, who told CBS he was 'familiar' with the documents, is an avid Bush supporter, and 'it took a lot for him to speak the truth,' Rather said."
"I do not know Robert Strong," Hodges insists. "Never met him." Hodges also insists that, though he considers himself a Bush supporter, he never expressed such sentiments to CBS.
Hodges maintains he first saw the disputed memos on the morning of September 10 after his niece downloaded them off the Internet. That same evening, he says, he had phone conversations with Mapes and Rather during which he expressed his belief that the Killian memos were fakes.
But what astounded him, he says, was that neither Rather nor Mapes probed further. "Neither one of them, neither Dan Rather nor Mary Mapes...they never asked me why I thought they were not authentic," he says. "I can tell you 21 reasons why I think that. It has nothing to do with typewriters or spacing or anything like that. It's just strictly the verbiage in those four memos."
CBS News didn't return calls for comment, and Mapes declined to discuss Hodges' charges. "I can't, I just can't," she says. But she did forward a study by Utah State University Associate Professor David Hailey disputing the contention that the memos were created on a word processor using digital type rather than a '70s-era typewriter--the key challenge to their authenticity. "I really believe they are not digitally produced," Hailey says. "I'm not saying that they're authentic. I'm saying they were probably typewritten. That doesn't make them authentic. But it does take CBS off the hook a little bit."