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Saturday, November 19, 2005

Jonathan Alter reviews Mary Mapes 

One of the delights of home delivery of the New York Times is that you get a lot of the Sunday sections on Saturday, so you can fisk read them at your liesure. Tomorrow's Sunday Magazine today. That sort of thing.

Of old, the Times would not post the articles from these pre-delivered Sunday sections until Sunday, which was intensely annoying. Now it does, so we are free to be annoyed over the substance of their articles rather than the timing of their delivery into easily bloggable form. We always give credit where credit is due.

Anyway, my heart skipped a beat this morning when I realized that tomorrow's Book Review contains Jonathan Alter's review of Mary Mapes' book, Truth and Duty. Slipping it from the stylish blue baggie, I felt like the dumb girl in an ax-murderer movie, the audience thinking "don't turn the page!"

Imagine how disappointing it was for me to conclude that Alter's review is not a total abomination. It starts strong:
I realized Mary Mapes had not told the whole story of the CBS-National Guard fiasco when I looked in the index to her book for a reference to The Boston Globe. It wasn't there.

Why is this such a telltale omission? In an article published in February 2004, seven months before CBS News imploded, The Globe, under the headline "Doubts Raised on Bush Accuser," essentially destroyed the credibility of a man named Bill Burkett, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Texas National Guard. Burkett claimed to have stumbled upon some of George W. Bush's Guard records in a trash can in 1997 while on a visit to a military museum where documents were kept. In the Globe article, three witnesses disputed this outlandish yarn.

No matter. Mapes writes that she knew other reporters had found Burkett to be an anti-Bush zealot back in February, but she doesn't seem to have taken their work seriously. When Burkett gave her "new" documents in early September, she staked her career and those of several colleagues at CBS News, including Dan Rather, not to mention control of the White House and the precarious status of the American news media, on the word of a man who had long since been discredited. Oh, well.

Yeah.

Alter also concludes about as strongly as we could expect from, er, Alter:
Amid her tale of victimization, Mapes explains how investigative reporting is now an endangered species in the American news media, especially on TV. It's expensive and subject to endless carping. But blaming cyber-bullies and corporate greed-heads for that endangerment won't cut it. CBS News did this to itself, and to the rest of us. The only remedy for journalists is to admit mistakes, then put our helmets back on and return to the field.

The big, gooey middle part, though, is painful.

Alter, who says he read the Thornburgh Report, is almost unbelievably disingenuous in his characterization of its discussion of the Killian documents:
[I]n early 2005 an independent panel appointed by CBS Inc. issued a devastating report that raised questions about the documents without revealing them to be fakes. (emphasis added)

Actually, the independent panel absolutely "revealed" the documents to be fakes. It just did not say that they were. But nobody can honestly read the evidence marshalled in that report and fail to conclude that the odds that they were not of contemporary manufacture are vanishingly small.

Alter also ignores fairly glaring arguments against Mapes' version of events that were raised in the Thornburgh report and elsewhere.
The authentication experts she hired were forced to examine the documents over Labor Day weekend and remained uncomfortable with having to analyze copies instead of originals. Two of the experts raised red flags that she didn't consider carefully enough in the rush to deadline.

This is, of course, a gross understatement. The Thornburgh report and other accounts makes it clear that she ignored -- not "didn't consider carefully enough" -- the opinions of Emily Will and Linda James. Will, in fact, raised concerns ex ante almost identical to those that the blogosphere raised ex post. Mapes knew this when she wrote her book, and Alter knows this because he read the Thornburgh report. If he were being a tad more objective, he would not have shaved his characterization so strongly in Mapes' favor.

Alter recounts that Mapes attributes the corporate pressure from Viacom to greed and a desire to pander to the administration, which was (allegedly) in a position to influence the regulation of broadcasting and the licensing of Viacom stations.
In her attacks on Bush, on CBS's corporate parent, Viacom (for kissing up to Bush), and on her own colleagues, Mapes is merciless.

Alter knows that this argument is barely credible -- if Viacom were so willing to stomp on CBS News to suck up to the Bushies, why did CBS take so long to correct an obviously inaccurate story, and why has it not to this day admitted what every other honest person knows -- that somebody hoodwinked it into airing the obviously manufactured Killian memos? If one's corporate ambition were to suck up to the Bushies, such an admission in October 2004 would have been the way to go.

The mainstream media does its own credibility no favors in continuing to promote Mapes' side of the story. Even a reviewer as negative as Alter cannot, obviously, bring himself to attack the core of the scandal.

UPDATE: Power Line, of course, has more.

7 Comments:

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Nov 19, 12:11:00 PM:

I don't wish to re-open the whole document controversy, but so little is made of Burkett's alleged "burning" of the original documents. It's very obvious why he had to do it. Originals made on a typewriter would have had raised keystroke print-through bumps on the reverse sides in addition to actual ribbon ink embedded in the paper. Any output from a word processor would have none of these features. I'm not sure Thornburgh, et al, mentioned that.

Mapes and her press admirers seem to be slipping into the dream world already occupied by Cindy Sheehan.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Nov 19, 06:06:00 PM:

Not to mention signed originals would almost certainly have fingerprints from the secretary doing the typeing as well as the signatory.  

By Anonymous Neo, at Sat Nov 19, 06:14:00 PM:

If Viacom were so willing to stomp on CBS News to suck up to the Bushies then one if left to wonder just how much sucking up their was with the previous (Clinton) administration. This definitely takes us into new territory.  

By Anonymous P. Aaron, at Sat Nov 19, 08:07:00 PM:

Reading Mapes and getting through it is one thing. Reading Alter reviewing Mapes is something that one supposes would be done in an act of desperation to muslim captives at Gitmo in order to get intel out of them.

I applaud your bother to have suffered this. Hopefully the weather cleared outside and you found at least a "make up call" for the rest of your weekend.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Nov 19, 08:51:00 PM:

This incident serves as a convenient litmus test: no responsible observer will deny that the CBS documents have been proven to be certain forgeries. Those who continue to do so cannot be taken seriously.  

By Anonymous S Silverstein, at Sat Nov 19, 09:26:00 PM:

Little Green Football's "blinking documents" page, comparing the CBS documents to documents typed into a recent version of MS word, is as good a proof of the fabrication as a matching fingerprint.

Try typing Mapes' documents into another word processor, such as StarOffice under Linux, using appropriate fonts. You will see the output does not match the fabricated documents, as MS Word's output does. Exactly.  

By Blogger Purple Avenger, at Sun Nov 20, 10:53:00 PM:

Where would we be if the media couldn't lie about stuff.

Seriously, I don't think I could stand the 55 minutes each hour they'd have to fill with commercials if they weren't aallowed to push BS stories ;->  

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