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CBS arranged for meeting with Lockhart
WASHINGTON — CBS arranged for a confidential source to talk with Joe Lockhart, a top aide to John Kerry, after the source provided the network with the now-disputed documents about President Bush's service in the Texas National Guard.

Lockhart, the former press secretary to President Clinton, said a producer talked to him about the 60 Minutes program a few days before it aired on Sept. 8. She gave Lockhart a telephone number and asked him to call Bill Burkett, a former Texas National Guard officer who gave CBS the documents. Lockhart couldn't recall the producer's name. But CBS said Monday night that it would examine the role of producer Mary Mapes in passing the name to Lockhart.

Burkett told USA TODAY that he had agreed to turn over the documents to CBS if the network would arrange a conversation with the Kerry campaign.

The network's effort to place Burkett in contact with a top Democratic official raises ethical questions about CBS' handling of material potentially damaging to the Republican president in the midst of an election. This "poses a real danger to the potential credibility ... of a news organization," said Aly Colón, a news ethicist at The Poynter Institute for Media Studies.

"At Burkett's request, we gave his (telephone) number to the campaign," said Betsy West, senior CBS News vice president.

CBS would not discuss the propriety of the network serving as a conduit between Burkett and the Kerry campaign. "It was not part of any deal" to obtain the documents, West said, declining to elaborate.

But Burkett said Monday that his contact with Lockhart was indeed part of an "understanding" with CBS. Burkett said his interest in contacting the campaign was to offer advice in responding to Republican criticisms about Kerry's Vietnam service. It had nothing to do with the documents, he said.

"My interest was to get the attention of the national (campaign) to defend against the ... attacks," Burkett said, adding that he also talked to former Georgia senator Max Cleland and Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean during the past 45 days. "Neither the Democratic Party or the Kerry campaign had anything to do with the documents," he said.

Lockhart said he phoned Burkett at the number provided by CBS. Lockhart also said that the documents never came up in his conversation with Burkett. Lockhart said the conversation lasted just a few minutes. "It's possible that the producer said they had documents" before his conversation with Burkett, he said.

At the end of the conversation, Lockhart said he thanked Burkett for his interest, and there was no further contact with him. Asked why he called Burkett, Lockhart said he talks to "a lot of people."

"I called you, didn't I?"

The White House said CBS' contact with Lockhart was inappropriate. "The fact that CBS News would coordinate with the most senior levels of Sen. Kerry's campaign to attack the president is a stunning and deeply troubling revelation," said Dan Bartlett, White House communications director.

Contributing: Judy Keen

 
 
 
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