TCS Daily


Truth and Doodie

By James Pinkerton - November 15, 2005 12:00 AM

Welcome to the next installment of the continuing saga: Mary Mapes vs. the Blogs, in which, for good measure, she takes on reality, too. And at the same time, we can consider the rise, fall -- and possible comeback -- of Mapes as part of the ongoing power-struggle between the MSM (Main Stream Media) and the New Media (NM).

If you don't know that Mapes is the former CBS News producer who was the driving force behind the September 8, 2004 broadcast on "60 Minutes II," attacking George W. Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard -- which was immediately debunked by the Blogosphere, leading to CBS's own meltdown -- then please read about it here.

But most media-savvy types know that the "Pajama Gang" -- those who stay up late and get up early to analyze the news for their own blogs, most notably, in this instance, on Free Republic -- challenged the authenticity of the "memos" that CBS's Dan Rather cited as proof that Bush had received "preferential treatment" to get into, and then out of, the Guard three decades earlier. Since the White House had not challenged the authenticity of those devastating "memos" when it had the chance, it's quite possible that the bloggers saved the President from disaster and defeat in last year's presidential election.

In particular, it was "Buckhead" who posted an item on the same night of the broadcast that challenged the alleged memos, copies of which had been procured by Mapes (the originals, such as they might be, have never been found). As Buckhead put it, "Every single one of these memos to file is in a proportionally spaced font," whereas typewriters in 1972 used "monospaced fonts." And so, Buckhead boldly concluded, "I am saying these documents are forgeries."

What followed was a collaborative deconstruction of the CBS report, in which bloggers did the work that should have been done by the White House and the Republican National Committee. In any case, the work got done; what might have been an effective hit job on a Republican president turned instead into "memogate," a big black eye for the Eye Network. Within two weeks, CBS had mostly retracted the story, and within months, the network had issued a 234-page report which concluded that CBS had "failed miserably" on the story. Which is to say, Buckhead & Co. were completely vindicated.

It was a hinge moment in the history of the media. The smackdown of CBS in 2004 compares to such earlier media-hinges as the Drudge Report's revelation about Monica Lewinsky in 1998 and the televised Kennedy-Nixon debates of 1960.

Happily, CBS seems to have gotten the message about the changing MSM-NM distribution of power. Whereas oftentimes it might be understandable that the "Tiffany Network," once the diadem of the MSM, would resent the upstart NM, in fact, CBS continues to make adjustments bespeaking its reduced status: CBS News president Andy Heyward recently announced his "retirement" at the ripe old age of 55.

In addition, CBS hired an ombudsman, Vaughn Ververs, who wrote recently about the Mapes memos: "Nothing I've seen leads me to believe they are authentic." He added, "In any case, it was CBS' responsibility to prove they were authentic, not for anyone else to prove they were fake."

But if CBS has learned a lesson, at least for the time being, Mapes, and her remaining facilitators in the MSM, have not. Now she is out with a book, for which she reportedly received a $250,000 advance -- an enormous sum that seems more like a gift to Mapes from the publisher, as opposed to a shrewd investment -- entitled Truth and Duty: The Press, the President, and the Privilege of Power. In addition, Vanity Fair showcased an excerpt in its December issue.

In contrast to her ex-employer, Mapes is completely uncontrite. In addition to telling her side of the story, she attacks her blogger-detractors. Why? Because they are "right wing," "hard right," and "anonymous." As Mapes describes them, "They hate in unison, they speak with one angry voice." Mapes' choicest comments, of course, were immediately posted online.

I am tempted to rely simply on the same Blogosphereans to refute the book. For example, "Pardon My English" dismisses it as "hilarious" and zeroes in on a publicity-tour interview on Fox News, in which Mapes refused to answer a straight-forward question from Bill O'Reilly on her own political ideology -- how hard can it be to answer such basic questions as, "Are you a liberal?" and "Do you vote Democratic?" Mapes may have dodged honest answers to those questions on Fox last week, but her own father provided his answer last year, when he told The Washington Post that his daughter went into journalism "with an ax to grind, that is, to promote feminism -- and radical feminism, I might say -- and liberalism."

Out of such radicalism, of course, comes dogmatism. So it's not surprising that Mapes clings to the view that the documents are real. Indeed, her devotion to non-truth inspired blogger RBMN to observe:

        "Mapes reminds me of Kathleen Soliah (a.k.a. Sara Jane Olson) of Symbionese 
        Liberation Army (SLA) fame. As with Soliah, it seems if you hate conservatives 
        deeply enough, you can believe almost anything, based on almost nothing. 
        And if you're already at the far-left of politics, like Mapes was, you have 
        plenty of people anxious to drag you over the edge with them. Mapes 
        let herself get dragged over the edge, and she's still there."

So yes, there's plenty of criticism of Mapes to be found on the NM as anyone can see -- and also, of course, some praise, since the Blogosphere is the opposite of united and dogmatic.

But while it might be poetic to let the NM have the last word on Mapes, it's more conclusive to give the last word to the MSM -- because those are Mapes' own people, the folks who know her best.

The New York Times has not reviewed the book yet, but The Washington Post has, and reviewer Paul Farhi was not kind. After zapping Mapes for seeking to minimize the obviously partisan footsie that she was playing with John Kerry's presidential campaign, he adds:

        "It's also telling whom Mapes decides to bust spleen over. In addition 
        to her undisciplined machine-gunning of those who blamed her or displeased 
        her, she unspools a dark, Michael Moore-ish theory about White House 
        adviser Karl Rove's supposed role in the whole mess. She not only proves 
        nothing but also comes off as more paranoid and less responsible than 
        the bloggers she seems to loathe."

Admittedly, Farhi does cut Mapes some slack, when he allows that "there's more to the Bush Guard story than we've learned so far." OK, fair enough, let's investigate everything. But let's not base our investigation on the basis of phony documents.

Others in the MSM have been even more punishing of Mapes. According to Bryan Keefer in the Columbia Journalism Review, Mapes is "intentionally misleading ... actively misleading ... still isn't coming clean." Ouch!

Here's Rem Rieder, who is the editor of the American Journalism Review, observing that Mapes, "kicks a lot of sand . . . at everyone from CBS pooh-bah Les Moonves to noted architect Karl Rove to the blogosphere." And yet, Rieder adds, the sand should be kicked at Mapes, because "the documents disaster was yet another crushing blow to journalism's credibility." He concludes, "It's clear Mapes hasn't learned anything from the debacle." Double ouch!

So that's the word on Mapes from the MSM. Of course, it's a big country, and so Mapes might yet find a base on the far left, way on the reality-bending port-side fringe of the liberal MSM, in amongst Cindy Sheehan, Ramsey Clark, and the Free Mumia crowd. And that's fine: it's a free country, even for liars and cheats.

However, lest Mapes ever seek to make a comeback -- she obviously still has friends in the MSM -- we should be mindful of just what sort of person she is, and what sort of attitudes she holds. And so we have to give Mapes the last word, for us to remember her by.

In the Vanity Fair excerpt, Mapes takes us inside her thinking -- too inside. She tells us that she and "Dan" shared a little acronym "F-E-A," which summed up their feelings toward outsiders. And what does "F-E-A" stand for? Why, "F--- 'Em All." That's what Mapes thinks of the rest of us, and that spirit has obviously guided her during her reportorial career.

Something for the rest of us to bear in mind, if and when Mapes re-emerges.

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