Mary Mapes: Truth is not her standard
Mary Mapes is back. After losing her job at CBS News a year ago, Mapes is back in the spotlight again with--you guessed it--a book deal. She has recently granted an interview to ABC News's Brian Ross.
In September 2004, Mary Mapes and her crew at 60 Minutes
were caught red-handed trying to pass off fake documents to the American public. It was an attempt to embarrass President Bush at the height of the most impassioned election year of my lifetime.
But don't expect Mary Mapes to apologize. To hear her tell it, she's done nothing wrong. She's a martyr, a good reporter who was fired for doing what all good reporters should do--getting to the truth. The fact that what her show broadcast was a lie is inconsequential to Mapes.
Mapes relishes in her role in the victim. "If I was an idiot, it was for believing in a free press that is able to do its job without fear or favor” she explains. No, Mary, you were an idiot because you thought you could do your job without facts.
This is what grates me about reporters. They do a piss-poor job of informing the public, and when you complain about their work they respond with the same defense every time. They're just reporters doing what reporters are supposed to do--keeping politicians honest, informing the public, bringing the truth to light--and those who dare to criticize the press obviously have sinister motives. Those who take issue with the American press are obviously against all of these things. They don't want politicians to be honest, they don't want want the public to be informed, and they don't want the truth to be brought to light. In other words, those who don't like journalists don't like the truth.
Sorry, but I don't have a problem with the truth. I have a problem with reporters who lie. I have a problem with reporters who think that the purpose of the media is to get Democrats elected. I have a problem with reporters who allow their personal feelings on controversial issues to color their reporting. I have a problem with reporters who go after some public figures like attack dogs, and let other public figures get away scot free. I have a problem with reporters who throw out all accepted practices of journalism and standards of truth just to pursue a story because the reporter personally wants it to be true so badly that nothing will keep it off the air. And worst of all, I have a problem with reporters like Mary Mapes who, when caught with their hand in the cookie jar, respond with martyr theatrics and claim to be the victim of powerful forces that want to keep the truth under cover.
Mary Mapes is completely unreprentant. From her point of view, she is the victim here. As every good liberal does, when caught red-handed, she used the "W" word--witchhunt--to describe what happened at CBS News after her bogus story aired. "Friendships were destroyed, trust was abandoned, and it was a very, very dark time. It was a very dark time. I mean, it was like having a little mini-witchhunt within the corporation. " Yes, it was the dark night of fascism descended upon America again.
And yes, she invoked the name of Joseph McCarthy to get herself out of trouble, just the same way every liberal does.
Writing in Truth and Duty,
“Conservative bloggers are part of the story. They have vilified me, mounted a 'wilding' attack against me…we were, it seemed the first victims of a new kind of digital McCarthyism, which uses the same techniques as the old McCarthyism–rumors, slurs, false charges and ugly attacks–but now employs the Internet, talk radio and cable TV echo chamber to ricochet information around the world..."
Yes, it is McCarthyism to demand that our media tell us the truth. It is McCarthyism to demand that journalists not rush to air with false charges against a sitting president for the sole reason that you really hate the guy and you're trying to make sure that his opponent wins. The bloggers caught her red-handed, and that is why she hates them so much. The old-fashioned media establishment, an exclusive club if there ever was one, does not like this new medium--the most egalitarian medium in the history of the world--because they checked up on her. Mary Mapes, and indeed the rest of the media establishment, are not used to be fact-checked by the public. They've had a taste of it, and they don't like it.
To underscore her victimhood, Mapes brings her son into it. "I had people driving by my house and taking pictures. I have a little boy, seven years old, and..." "What did you tell him?" Ross asks. "Not much," replies Mary Mapes.
So there it is. Don't be so harsh on Mary, she has a seven-year-old boy at home, for crying out loud! So I guess that's the standard now. It's verboten
to level any type of criticism at anyone who has children. I guess President Bush could use his twin daughters as a shield, and Mary Mapes and her crew would leave him alone. After all, it's only decency.
If Mary Mapes isn't up to the task of telling her son why she got fired, then I will do it for her. Sorry kid, you're mom's a liar. She's a poor journalist who uses her position to influence the public mood and get her favorite candidates elected. She sees the world through her own little prism, and as producer of news program, she makes her audience see the world through that prism as well. And most of all, she has no respect for established journalistic norms.
Let's see what kind of journalistic norms she broke.
Mapes believes that it is not her job to prove that her story is true before it goes on the air. In fact, it is the responsibility of her critics to prove that it is not true. Meanwhile, when indisuptable evidence is presented that her story is faker than a three dollar bill, she will go into martyr mode and attack anyone who dares to prove that her story is unfounded. Don't believe me? Check out this exchange between Mary Mapes and ABC News reporter Brian Ross:
ROSS: Do you still think the story was true?
MAPES: The story? Absolutely.
ROSS: This seems remarkable to me that you would sit here now and say you still find that story to be up to your standards.
MAPES: I'm perfectly willing to believe those documents are forgeries if there's proof that I haven't seen.
ROSS: But isn't it the other way around? Don't you have to prove they're authentic?
MAPES: Well, I think that's what critics of the story would say. I know more now than I did then, and I think -- I think -- they have not been proved to be false yet.
ROSS: Have they proved to be authentic, though? Isn't that really what journalists do?
MAPES: No, I don't think that's the standard.
She doesn't think that that's the standard! Is this what they taught her in J-school? What university gave this woman a diploma, anyway? I did a little research, and I found out that the University of Washington has that dishonor.
Mary Mapes based the entire Bush National Guard memos on a single source--a man named Bill Burkett. As any good reporter will tell you, basing any story a single source is risky business. It had better be a really good source. So how reliable was Bill Burkett?
Bill Burkett suffered a mental breakdown, and was hospitalized in the late 1990's. Bill Burkett has compared George W. Bush to Hitler. Bill Burkett has a rare tropical disease that he contracted during National Guard service in Panama, and he blames the Texas National Guard and George W. Bush for not paying for his treatment. Bill Burkett demanded, in exchange for the documents, cash, relocation assistance, and direct contact with the John Kerry campaign. And last, but not least, Bill Burkett had been telling stories about George W. Bush every election year since time immemorial, and all of his stories have fallen apart under scrutiny.
This is the one guy that Mary Mapes based her story on. I'm not kidding.
On this point, Mapes becomes a little unclear. Until the release of Truth and Duty
, Mapes had always contended that Burkett was a reliable source "solid," "without bias," and "a Texas Republican." He is none of these.
But in the pages of her book, she reveals "I knew Burkett didn't like Bush
. As governor, Bush didn't do what Burkett thought was needed to clean up the Guard's endemic corruption. And I knew Burkett was bitter over what he felt was unfair treatment with regard to medical problems
he said he developed while stationed in Panama for the Guard. But bitterness, medical problems, political differences, and an angry departure from a workplace don't disqualify someone from serving as a source. In fact, those are often defining elements for a whistle-blower." (Emphasis added). Also, she writes "He [Burkett] was generally viewed by the press as an anti-Bush zealot. That is how I regarded him, too."
Hardly consistent. Is he "without bias", or is he "an anti-Bush zealot"? You can't have it both ways, Mary. And yes, I do believe that being "an anti-Bush zealot" disqualifies a person from being a source, never mind the sole source, for this damaging story.
Mapes also admits that she knew that earlier Burkett tall-tales had fallen apart. She didn't care. "In February 2004, Burkett had gone public with a tale about witnessing what he called a 'cleansing' of Bush documents at Texas National Guard headquarters in Austin in 1997, while Bush was governor. One of the people Burkett relied on to back him up had denied all knowledge, leaving Burkett to twist in the wind."
In other words, that story fell apart too. And yet this reporter, who prides herself on her skepticism, believed him anyway. It's not that Burkett was caught in a lie, it's that his source had left him "to twist in the wind". Only a few months later, Mapes herself would be twisting in the wind for trusting Burkett. I'm no journalist, but even I know that reporters shouldn't believe a source simply on faith, and then conclude, after the source's source fails to coroborate the story, that the original source was left "to twist in the wind".
Mapes didn't seem the lest bit concerned that Burkett presented three different explanations as to where he had gotten the documents. His first story was that he had recieved them anonymously in the mail. Some mysterious Texas "Deep Throat" had decided to mail the documents, quite randomly, to a guy who just happens to have been making up stories about Bush for as long as Bush has been in politics. Interesting...
Later, he would say that he received the documents at a livestock show in Houston, from a woman named Lucy Ramirez. No one's even sure that Lucy Ramirez exists. Again, who is Ms. Ramirez, and why would she give the documents to Bill Burkett at a livestock show?
By far, his best explanation was that Chief Warrant Officer George Conn had given them to him. He warned Mary Mapes not to try to contact Conn, because Conn would deny it. In other words, he would be caught in a lie again, just as he had been in a in February 2004. In fact, Bill Burkett had tried to use Chief Warrant Officer Conn as a source before, and he had denied Burkett's claims. Mapes later told the CBS News investigating committee that she "did not consider Chief Warrant Officer Conn's denial to be reliable." Conn, the only person in the world who could have proved Burkett was telling the truth, was simply not asked if he had given the documents to Burkett, because Burkett had used him as a source before and he had denied Burkett's claims. So Conn is not to be trusted.
Again, isn't it the job of a reporter to insure that Burkett's
claims are reliable, not Conn's denial? And they gave this woman a Peabody Award? I guess that this is what it takes to rise to the top of your field in journalism.
In yet another example of Mary Mapes lying through her teeth, Mapes claims that she had given the documents to an expert and that he had given them the A-Okay before the broadcast of the original story. The CBS News investigating committee later determined this to be false; the expert had approved one signature on one document.
All of this seems to indicate a trend--Mapes was going to put these documents on air no matter what. Nothing, especially not the truth was going to stop her. But to hear her tell it, she worked very hard to make sure that these documents were authentic. In Truth and Duty,
she writes: "I had spent weeks trying to get these pieces of paper and every waking hour since I had received them vetting each document for factual errors or red flags. "
Well here's a red-flag that you missed, Mary: the documents were written with Microsoft Word! An Air Force IBM typewriter from 1972 could not possibly have written these documents. Does anyone really believe that Mary Mapes was sitting in her office, poring over these documents, meticulously checking every detail, to ensure that she did not go to air with anything less than the truth? I know I don't believe that. Ms. Mapes was too deeply in love with the documents, and the election was a scant eight weeks off. She had an opportunity to swing the election against a man that she deeply hated, and she wasn't going to let the opportunity go to waste.
To make things worse, Mary Mapes tacitly admits that she has been doing hatchet journalism like this for years. In her interview with Brian Ross, she says "I don't think I committed bad journalism. I really don't. I don't think I've done a good job for 25 years, woke up on the morning of September 8th and decided to commit professional hari-kari."
On this point, I believe Mary Mapes. For her, this is journalism-as-usual. The journalistic practices that she applied to the Bush National Guard story were the same that she applies to every story. This is how Mary Mapes has always operated: using a single source, not checking her source's source (George Conn), trusting a known Bush-hater who just happens to have had a mental breakdown, not checking her documents with a document expert, and believing a man who offered three separate explantions as to where he had gotten the documents.
Need I remind you again that this woman blazed her way to the top at a rather young age, producing news programs for the network of Murrow and Kronkite. She was awarded the prestigious Peabody Award.
Mary Mapes refuses to believe that she has done anything wrong. She refuses to believe that the documents are fakes, because no one has proven it to her yet that they are. And no one ever will, because no amount of evidence will ever be enough for Mary Mapes. She's already excluded the possibilty that they are anything but authentic, and she believes that Bush didn't do right by the National Guard. She doesn't need any evidence to that fact, she simply believes it. When "evidence" comes along to prove her already pre-conceived notion, she rushes the story to Dan Rather's desk, breaking every time-honored journalistic standard. And she thinks she's a heroine for doing so.
This is what I called Woodward-and-Berstein journalism. Get the bad guys, bring down Tricky Dick. Or maybe we can call it Peter Jennings journalism. As the deceased Canadian journalist once said (besides admitting to being raised "with anti-Americanism in my blood") that "We [reporters] may tell you all the time that our principal aim in life is to communicate and assist, inform. But if you see injustice and you can get people to do something about it, ahh, it's just a glorious feeling…. There's nothing a reporter likes more than to have an effect on policy
." (emphasis added).
There's something arrogant about that. Whether it's Mary Mapes, Peter Jennings, or the Woodward and Bernstein duo, I have a problem with journalists on a crusade. I don't like journalists who think it's their job to have an effect on policy. It's their job to inform me, the citizen, and then I
can have an effect on policy. Unfortunately, I believe that Jennings's idea of what journalism should be is commonly taught in journalism schools across the country.
I wonder what would happen if a whole generation of young conservatives invaded journalism schools with a distinct desire to battle every "injustice" (Peter Jennings's word, not mine) in our culture. What if conservative reporters wanted to "have an effect on policy"? Would the liberals cry foul if conservative reporters did story after story about the terrible phsyical and psychological effects that abortion has on women? What if conservatives used the anchor's chair to combat gun-control, homosexuality, and the relentless secularization of our culture? And what if conservative journalists whipped up fake documents to frame a liberal Democrat, and then claimed afterwards that it isn't the responsibility of a journalist to prove that the story is true?
I doubt that Mary Mapes will ever fess up. She really thinks that she's done nothing wrong. After all, she was just trying to have an effect on policy, that's all. That makes her a heroine, doesn't it? No. But until all of Mary Mapes's twins are removed from the media, I will continue consume my news with a bit of caution.