Mary Mapes Makes a Mess -- Again
I have just finished reading Vanity Fair's excerpt of former CBS producer Mary Mapes' new book on her role in the infamous Memogate stories which cost four CBS News staffers their jobs and pushed Dan Rather prematurely out of the anchor chair. And I am pissed.
Not at CBS, which is cast as the ultimate corporate weasel in Mapes' 11-page story.
But at Mapes, who offers a self-serving, illogical, insulting diatribe which mostly blames others besides herself and Rather while subtly proving many of the criticisms leveled at her and the story by an independent investigation.
For those who haven't got the stamina to wade through Mapes' self-pitying monologue, I'll hit the troubling high points here:
Mapes and Rather's story for 60 Minutes Wednesday centered on memos supposedly written by a man who was George W. Bush's commanding officcer in the Vietnam War-era Texas Air National Guard, Lt. Col. Jerry Killian. These memos expressed Killian's dismay over the preferential treatment Bush was getting as the son of a then-Congressman. Turns out, Mapes received the memos from Bill Burkett, a man she admits in her book "was generally viewed by the press as an anti-Bush zealot."
Burkett had been forced out of the National Guard in Texas and was angry at Bush. But when Burkett hands her the smoking gun to a story journalists have been chasing for years, Mapes admits she didn't initially press him for details on how he got the documents. Later, he named another guardsman as the source, but Mapes failed to find him before the first story aired -- almost immediately sparking doubts about the memos' authenticity.
In her excerpt, Mapes describes a horrifying conversation set up by CBS News president Andrew Heyward with himself, Rather, Mapes and CBS News executive Betsy West with Burkett as criticism was mounting against the story. In that call, Burkett admits initially lying to Mapes about where he got the memos, saying that a woman named Lucy Ramirez provided them by a third party delivered to him at a Houston livestock show.
"I looked around the room and saw that Betsy and Andrew were openmouthed, blinking, blinded by their sudden exposure to the weirdness that is and always will be Texas," Mapes writes, refusing to believe the pair might be astonished by the line of BS Burkett was feeding them. Or dismayed that the man who handed them the central evidence in the most-criticized 60 Minutes story in recent years was now admitting he lied to them about the source of the documents -- saying they came from a woman he doesn't know and can't produce.
Or maybe they just realized their careers were over.
Mapes also admits in her book that only two of the four document experts hired by CBS authenticated the documents. What she doesn't mention is that the only expert to see all six documents CBS obtained from Burkett, handwriting analyst Marcel Matley, later said he only authenticated Kilian's signature on two documents, not the contents of all six memos.
Rather -- to whom Mapes remains oddly loyal, despite the fact that he wasn't fired when she was and didn't quit in protest -- appears oddly disconnected from the story in Mapes' account, showing up for key interviews and edits only. This may help shield him from criticism, but it also reinforces another problem with the story - that Rather led viewers to believe he was the lead reporter on a piece he was barely involved with assembling.
To Vanity Fair's credit, they do reporting Mapes did not, inserting responses from CBS News and Viacom executives and others to many of her allegations -- responses which, presumably will not appear in her book.
And as Bryan Keefer points out in a piece for CJR Daily, Mapes also declines to mention one of the most serious charges against her -- that she tried to set up a meeting between John Kerry campaign staffer Joe Lockhart and Burkett, who was getting the cold shoulder from established Democrats well aware he was the most impeachable source in the country.
Worst of all, attention to Memogate distracted the public from quality reporting done by the Associated Press and Boston Globe on the same subject, along with 60 Minutes' scoops that same year on Abu Ghraib and a Pentagon staffer who may have given secrets to Israel. CBS also delayed airing an Ed Bradley piece on how the Bush admnistration may have been duped by forged documents purporting to show Iraq was buying nuclear material -- the issue which sent former Ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger and started the ball rolling on what would become the CIA leak case.
So readers of Mapes' story are left to believe two things. Either Joe Lockhart, 60 Minutes producer Josh Howard, CBS News executive Betsy West, CBS News president Andrew Heyward and document expert Marcel Matley are all lying in ways big and small about Mapes' actions. Or she's spreading a line of manure thick as a Texas steak to justify her own mistakes.
"I couldn't help but reflect sadly on what had become of CBS News," wrote Mapes of her time speaking with the independent panel which investigated the story's development and concluded CBS News failed to follow basic journalism standards.
I say if Mapes wants to blame anyone for the degraded state of CBS News, she should look in the mirror.
Here's a shot of yours truly performing at the Times Festival of Reading Saturday -- as a bass player and singer, which 25 years of drumming exeprience hardly prepared me for....