Politics & Policy

Martyr Mapes

The CBS producer did nothing wrong. Believe her story, not your lying eyes.

I’ve just read the Vanity Fair article excerpting Mary Mapes’s new book, Truth and Duty: The Press, the President, and the Privilege of Power.

Yes, that is the title. No, there are no reports of lightning striking anywhere near Ms. Mapes for writing a book that uses “truth” and “duty” in its title.

First thought: Dear Lord, if I ever botch a story as badly as Mapes did, and, say, write a huge expose on Kim Jong-Il’s inappropriate relationship with a goat, and it turns out that the memo describing said relationship was not actually written in North Korean but merely replaced every instance of the letter “l” with the letter “r”, please, please, please let me get a $250,000 book deal with an 11-page excerpt in Vanity Fair and a big glossy photo of me with a dog. Thank you.

Moving on to the excerpt itself.

Those of us among the pajamahadeen may harbor a great deal of anger toward Mary Mapes. Looking at her book deal–did I mention the six figures?–it is easy to imagine that some of us may feel envy. But after reading all eleven pages of the excerpt, I conclude that these are the wrong reactions. We should not feel anger, or envy or bitterness. We should feel pity for Ms. Mapes.

Not sympathy, mind you, but pity.

Mapes doesn’t have much of a case to make. But she’s got to write something to get that $250,000, so she concocts an alternate reality in which the memos were genuine, Bill Burkett was a source worth trusting, her journalism wasn’t shoddy, she’s an unbiased reporter with no agenda to smear the president, and the world is full of evil, hairy, knuckle-dragging monsters called “bloggers,” who can somehow Jedi-mind-trick the entire journalistic establishment into attacking this lone brave crusader for truth.

When somebody’s that far gone, can you feel anything but pity?

There are some lines in which it is tough to stifle snickers. “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.” All those waking hours, and not once did she or apparently anyone else at CBS say, “Boy, this looks a lot like Microsoft Word.”

She writes, “We had a senior document analyst named Marcel Matley fly to New York to look at all the documents we had, the official records that had been previously released by the White House as well as the ‘new’ ones. After examining them for hours, blowing up signatures and comparing curves, strokes, and dots, he said he saw nothing to indicate that the memos had been doctored or had not been produced in the early 1970s. A second analyst, James Pierce, agreed.”

Matley is a signature analyst, not a document analyst. He himself had said, “a definite finding of authenticity for a signature is not possible from a photocopy.” By his own expert opinion, he was incapable of authenticating anything about this document.

As for James Pierce, CBS radically misrepresented his opinion, taking his preliminary assessment and trumpeting it as his final professional opinion. Pierce was not happy with CBS for that.

I recall this feeling from arguing with CBS last summer. They would say, “the sky is green, our experts said so.” Bloggers would then go back and check with the experts, who would say, “no, we told CBS the sky is blue.” Days later, CBS would go back to reasserting the sky is green, pretending the counterarguments never happened. It was as if their worldview was surrounded by an impenetrable shield, powerful enough to repel facts of any magnitude.

Table Pounding

You’re familiar with the old legal strategy: If you have the facts on your side, argue the facts; if you have the law on your side, argue the law; if you have neither the facts nor the law on your side, then shout a lot and pound the table. We get a lot of shouting and table-pounding in Mapes’s article. Among the things we learn:

Bloggers are “far-right.” Free Republic, Little Green Footballs, and Power Line are “hard-core, politically angry, hyper-conservative sites loaded with vitriol about Dan Rather and CBS.” The recollections of the folks who actually used typewriters in the Texas Air National Guard in the 1970s who doubted CBS’s report have “questionable recollections.” (As opposed to the ironclad recollections of “Lucy Ramirez,” wherever she is.)

Buckhead’s original posting saying that the memos matched nothing he had ever seen in National Guard memos or documents written on typewriters in the 1970s is a “screed.” He’s a lawyer affiliated with two conservative groups, the Southeastern Legal Foundation and the Federalist Society, so he obviously must be lying.

She writes, “the attack on CBS News and the story we aired was just another part of the Bush supporters’ aggressive pattern of sliming anyone and everyone who raised questions about the president.”

She writes, “If I am an elitist liberal, I have to blame it on my privileged background. I grew up in an elitist-liberal hothouse, a tiny farm in Washington State, where for generations my family worked from daylight to darkness, feeding cattle, raising crops, and watching the skies obsessively, hoping for good weather.”

“The people who attacked my story are more gifted at working with fertilizer than facts.”

Pound that table, Mary, pound that table!

Mapes complains that newspapers like the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times (ah, those noted propaganda rags of the vast right-wing conspiracy) “were reading the blogs and repeating their talking points without questioning them.”

What “talking points”? LGF typed the text of the memos into Microsoft Word and they matched perfectly! That’s not an assertion; it’s evidence that everybody can see with their own two eyes; no dubious anonymous sources to trust there. What’s to question? If the LGF guys used Windows XP or 2000?

Then Mapes says she checked with Matley after the first objections: “I phoned Matley, who said he had seen some of the comments and dismissed them out of hand. He disdained the anonymity of the postings, saying that any real analysts would use their names and credentials.”

How do I put this most eloquently and appropriately? Liar, liar, pants on fire. From Matley’s interview with Rather, a part that was not used:

Rather: And, your analysis of the documents as a whole. You look at the handwriting and I asked you about the handwriting, but you look at the documents as a whole–tell us what your process was–how your analysis went?

Matley: Uh, looking at the documents as a whole, I called you and let you know that if we had to authenticate these documents from scratch, we couldn’t do it. So, we had to assume that we had copies of authentic documents and then addressed the signature and we went on that basis.

Matley said he called CBS to tell them that he couldn’t authenticate the documents from scratch. He said he had to assume that he was working with copies of authentic documents; which raises the question: Just what is the point of an authenticator who assumes that the documents he’s looking at are genuine?

Back to the excerpt from Mapes:

General Bobby Hodges, the man who had corroborated the content of the documents before we aired our story, called to say that he had seen all the coverage and he, too, thought the documents were forgeries.

With horror, I realized I had no recording of his earlier corroboration. I felt sick. I read him the notes I had taken during our previous conversation, on Labor Day, September 6. He admitted he had indeed said all those things but insisted that now he didn’t think the memos were real. [Hodges later told the CBS panel he did not confirm the contents of the memos.]

Poor Mary Mapes. Apparently everyone is lying but her.

She writes, “But they have people who are doing that, Mary,” [CBS News President] Andrew Heyward said, “and it’s killing us. If the blogs are using people that are lousy analysts to make their case, then let’s get some lousy analysts of our own.” [In an e-mailed response from CBS News, Heyward denied asking how many analysts could be summoned for a news conference or suggesting that CBS find “lousy analysts.”]

Bah! Heyward’s a Rovian mole! He joins the conspiracy!

She also still believes that the superscript “th” issue was settled in her favor.

A number of us had stayed up half the night on September 9, going through Bush documents released by the government until we found contemporaneous examples of a small superscript “th.” One example that we found in Bush’s official record appeared to have been typed as early as 1968, and we planned to put it on the air and release it online. Although the “th” in the official document was not identical to those in the Killian memos, it demonstrated that typewriters of the period were equipped to create superscripts.

But the CBS memo “th” and the verified 1970s “th” look completely different. The CBS memo “th” was elevated, kerned, the kind of neat look you can only get with modern word processing. The verified one was smaller letters with a line underneath them, completely in line with the other numbers. And oh yeah, the CBS memo “th” still matches Microsoft Word exactly. In fact, one of the CBS memos had a space between the 111 and the “th,” and the “th” was not superscript–exactly what happens when you have a space between a number and the “th” in Microsoft Word. How many coincidences does it take for “a preponderance” (the low standard CBS is insisting upon) to suggest this was a Microsoft Word document?

So desperate is Mapes for any handy tool with which to hit her critics that she notes that one of the two men heading the CBS review, former attorney general Dick Thornburgh, was a victim of British prankster Ali G. (Pajamahadeen, feel free to take a moment to collect yourselves. All we believe and hold dear has been dealt a devastating blow by the Ali G. revelation.)

She continues to swing away at Thornburgh: “I thought back to how Thornburgh had been described to me as an ‘empty suit,’ the perfect person for politics, a blank slate ready to carry out whatever orders he got from headquarters. Now I knew differently. He wasn’t an empty suit at all. He was completely full of it.”

The table is beginning to crack, Mapes has pounded her fist so many times.

A Slow-Learning Martyr

When Mapes is not pounding the table, she’s nailing herself to a cross, suffering for the sins of a network full of “corporate fat cats” who knuckled under to the dastardly Bush administration. (Somehow, she resisted the urge to tie this to Halliburton.) She adds, “Suspected ‘liberals’ had become the new Communists.” Well, I’m sure some NRO readers will jump in and say that they never saw much of a distinction between the two, but really. Does Mapes actually think she was canned for being “liberal”? Or was she canned for giving CBS the biggest journalistic black eye since Jayson Blair?

It must be tough to be Mary Mapes. She thought she had a great story; she either knew the memos were fake and didn’t care, or was so blinded by a desire to nail the president that she was incapable of detecting the forgeries. Even today, Mapes’s Vanity Fair excerpt shows she’s learned nothing.


She still believes she did nothing wrong, other than failing to be prepared for a betrayal by her evil corporate bosses.

Mapes really does expect the world to believe her, rather than our lying eyes.

Jim Geraghty writes TKS for NRO from Turkey. Geraghty is a blogger whom Mary Mapes, it is safe to say, doesn’t like, having been a leader in the successful effort to expose the Rathergate document scandal.


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