CBS controversy touches Tucumcari

Mike Linn

The man at the center of CBS’ Reports questioning President Bush’s National Guard service once served as a commander of one of Tucumcari’s New Mexico National Guard Headquarters Battery, said his brother Jerry Burkett who lives in Portales.

Bill Burkett currently of Baird, Texas, near Abilene, was born and attended school in Portales. In fact the controversial Texan graduated from Portales High School in 1967 and was student-body president of Eastern New Mexico University in 1970-71. Documents Bill Burkett gave to CBS were said to have been written by Lt. Col. Jerry B. Killian, indicating he was pressured to “sugarcoat” the performance ratings of a young Bush.

CBS’ Dan Rather used the documents in a Sept. 8 “60 minutes” episode, defending their credibility for a week after the show had aired before apologizing Monday for a “mistake in judgment.” Bill Burkett, 54, also a retired Texas National Guard official, told Rather on Monday’s “CBS Evening News” he deliberately misled a CBS producer, giving her a false account of the document’s origin to protect a promise of confidentiality to a source.

Bill Burkett, who last was in the eastern New Mexico area in 2002 for his mother’s funeral, could not be reached for comment Monday.“We’re pretty concerned about what’s going on,” his brother said. “This is pretty serious. I just hope everything was on the up and up. I have no reason to believe it isn’t, but I don’t know. This is an election year and a lot of things get put out of proportion.” Jerry Burkett described his brother as a “strong Democrat,” but said he used to be a Republican in the Reagan years. He said his brother spent 20-plus years in the New Mexico and Texas National Guard units and now works in the cattle business in Baird.

Former Battalion Commander in Tucumcari, Si Reed, said he vaguely remembered the two Burkett brothers, but because they were not from Tucumcari he could not recall them well. He said he got to know the National Guardsmen from the Tucumcari well, but those who just came down periodically for their guard service, he never got that well acquainted with.

Jerry Burkett also said his brother has physical health problems, but he declined to elaborate.
Jerry Burkett said he hasn’t spoken to his brother since recent news broke on the documents. He urged caution for his brother’s critics. “I don’t want him hammered about things we’re not sure of,” said Jerry Burkett, a Republican.
Jerry Burkett, who farms west of Portales, said he can’t fault his brother if he didn’t know documents were likely forged.
Jerry Burkett said he doesn’t know what triggered his brother to switch from Republican to Democrat in the mid-1980s, but said his political views have grown stronger over the years.

Jerry Burkett described his brother as direct and having strong beliefs, and said the two have had heated discussions on politics. “The Democratic people there in Taylor County, in Abilene, they think a lot of him,” his brother said. “He not considered a kook at all.”

Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico’s David Stevens contributed to this report.