Interview With Mary Mapes Re: AWOL
This has been a week full of public lying. A funny thing happens to lies, though: often the truth comes along and leaves those lies in the poo-flinging category where they belong.
I interviewed Mary Mapes this week. Mary Mapes is the producer who got awarded a Peabody for uncovering the Abu Ghraib story. You probably remember her, though, as the "fired CBS producer" of a Sixty Minutes story that presented documents showing how Bush didn't fulfill his service obligations to the Texas Air National Guard during the VietNam war. She has never been discredited for her work on that program, though you won’t know it by reading right wing blogs. The book that was going to be written to disprove her supportive documents was announced on December 20, 2005, at Powerline. They haven’t returned my calls asking when it was to be published.
Speaking of lies:
Mary Mapes, a Dallas-based producer, obtained the documents from a source that she and the network refuse to reveal, even though the documents themselves have been widely discredited. ... Mary Mapes declined several opportunities to comment for this article.
That’s Jeff Gannon of the late Talon News credentials so easily obtained from the White House. When you write the party line, you get great service at the White House. Mary says “go ahead and look, you won’t find nude pictures of me online.” Did they ever call her? “Not once.”
Not Jeff Gannon. Not Powerline. Not the White House. Must have been too busy savaging her.
A wonderful part of the story of Mary Mapes--where were the records, the official military records of the president’s service in the Texas Air National Guard? Lost. Missing. And they weren’t even emails! Mary enjoyed Keith Olberman’s Countdown recently, that took a look back over all the lost documents that were trailing behind ... oh, sorry, not trailing behind in the long, long record of travesties of public service that the president has amassed.
Keith Olberman’s account followed an exchange she had with Glenn Greenwald when he published the long, long list of things the rightwing blogs had gotten wrong. She emailed him saying she thought his work had been great, but “Guess what. They were wrong about me too.” A pleasant exchange of emails followed. Mary Mapes has the highest regard for his reportage, a regard which predated that exchange.
Mary has gotten a lot of information from the blogging she does (Mary thinks that "reading various blogs" is more accurate here, but as ChiDyke and I have realized, many more read than comment, still they are blogging), but admits that she doesn’t comment much at all. She will, however, be looking at the comments to follow this post. She will try to answer questions within her time limitations. Mary Mapes is working on a documentary, but you’ll have to wait to find out what it’s about, since “if she tells me she’ll have to kill me.”
I asked Mary how it felt to be the “producer fired by CBS” over the reporting that she had done:
For a long time, being identified primarily as a“producer fired by CBS” was like waking up every morning with an anvil on my head. I was saddened by how my 15-year career at CBS had ended. I still am, but as time has passed, as the Bush administration has begun to stagger under the weight of multiple scandals and as public opinion has changed, I have made some peace with it. I believe that at the end of the day, I will be more comfortable with my choices and actions than many in the working press.
While many of you had followed the story of the so-called Rathergate affair, let me just mention that when the Sixty Minutes episode was aired, there were documents given to Mary Mapes that she had checked for authenticity, from a source that since has been identified as retired Texas National Guard officer Bill Burkett, and while they were copies (i.e., could not have been verified through ink testing or other means) they had been checked for consistency with still-existent records of the time, and by document experts. When the story aired, there was an outburst of invective against the program, Bush’s record, and aimed squarely at the documents that had been used to establish his inadequacy, notes written by his commanding officer, Lt. Col. Jerry Killian, describing Bush’s performance in very dismissive terms. This was a part of the story, but to the rightwing blogs became the only story.
While I was watching the tumult from the outer edges, encountering it mainly at the blog buzzmachine, I was myself astonished by the suddenly emerging rightwing document experts who claimed knowledge of "kerning" and typesetting that totally proved that the documents were created on a computer and that the story was Dan Rather’s own invention out of his warped hatred for their president. I actually was familiar enough with the subject to know that one claim, that all the letters would have been proportionally spaced on a 70's typewriter, was not true. I own one. Mary laughs at that. She has heard so many claims of disproof of the spacing issue from attackers claiming to own a 70's typewriter that she has come to doubt they ever existed at all, I suppose.
I asked Mary what I had always wondered, how the story of Bush’s service had been totally obscured by the furor over the kernel of typesetting imbroglio. (Forgive my puns.)
The reason that the font style, typeface and proportional spacing questions became the dominant issues in my story is that it was part of a brilliantly executed, if deceitful, tactic to avoid the subject at hand. It was also wildly successful. All of the claims that “typewriters couldn’t do those things in the early 1970s” were completely baseless. That fraudulent strategy distracted the media and the public from one of the really revealing incidents in President Bush’s background. Focusing on these
peripheral issues allowed competing news organizations (who had been taking dictation from the White House for years) to attack someone who wasn’t falling into line. The tactic also allowed a White House political operation -- well-versed in changing the subject, attacking the messenger and using savage personal attacks on its political opponents -- to try out those techniques against a news organization. The strategy worked because our story was basically about two-and-a-half years too early. I think if the story ran today that the public and the media would view it differently. We now all have greater clarity about how the Bush White House operates. If documents and records you want to examine don’t reflect positively on the President, then they can’t be found. If they are ever located and they aren’t supportive of the White House version of events, then you can’t see them because of executive privilege/national security issues. And if you don’t find those answers acceptable, you have a political bias. That is standard operating procedure whether the subject is FEMA during Katrina, the treatment of detainees, the handling of White House emails, or the President’s military service records.
I don’t know why the public or the mainstream media accepted this at the time. Actually, many regular Americans did not accept this behavior from the White House, but they had no recourse. They found it dishonest, but there was no Congressional oversight, no way of forcing the administration to answer questions, produce documents or in any way deign to explain their actions to the country. In 2004, people who were unhappy with this monarchical arrangement were in the minority. In 2007, if polls are any indication, it’s a majority.
After watching Attorney General Gonzales spend a long day suffering under withering questions, I have to say I believe we have reached a tipping point. As an American, I am happy to see a strong two-party system back in play, greater accountability in government, and a public that is finally demanding some answers. I feel like I live in the United States again.
Mary Mapes published a book about her experience with the Sixty Minutes stew, Truth and Duty, which is now out in paperback. In the publicity tour when the book was published, the poo-flinging began again, leading to the publication of such scurrility as William Campeninni’s raking her over in Powerline, claiming to be a Texas Air National Guard member along with Bush, and the claim that he had been approached to write, and would be writing, a book that has somehow also gotten lost. A few people are periodically dragged out to claim Bush was never lacking in attention to duty, even though the world is well aware of his going missing for a long chunk of time and never having finished, or taken a physical, as required by that service. The claims of these Bushies include a claim that the clinic was probably closed, preventing him from getting his required physical, and that the service code was used inappropriately in the papers displayed. Ms. Mapes and a team of researchers at 60 Minutes II of course had compared the memos they used to existing ones, and found them consistent. She has never had them proved wrong.
She knows all the accusations. They have been slung at her in "Swift Boat"-style throughout the episode at Sixty Minutes, and again when she presented the book which she has written. She’s sorry not to be able to read the book that doesn’t exist, as she was to miss out on Bush’s actual military records.
Another fabulous book lost to history, I guess. I’m sorry he didn’t go forward. I would have loved to have seen it,particularly since it would have been a quick read. When it comes to the President’s military record, there just isn’t that much to say.
I remember the name Campennini coming up during our look at Bush’s service. Just from memory, I recall that he was always considered an “F.O.B.,” a friend of Bush’s who could be counted on to confirm the President’s version of events in 1972. A reporter named Corey Pein did a great piece in Columbia Journalism Review not long after my impaling which
recounted the Bush team’s strategy of relying on a core team of people like Campennini, Dean Roome, Maury Udell, Bobby Hodges and Buck Staudt to back up the President’s claims....Without taking the initiative to look outside that group, a reporter could never see the real story, that there were tremendous contradictions between the White House version of events and what could be found in the records, the statements from those in the Guard who were not aligned with the President and the reality of how the Guard operated during Vietnam.
Mary doesn’t use the term "sockpuppets." She’s well acquainted with the prototype, though. She’s become overwhelmingly familiar with the swift-boating and disappearing record techniques as well.
Mary Mapes has always had a lot of help from whistleblowers, and credits a whole lot of calls during Bush’s term as Governor of Texas asking her please to look at his dreadful lack of service in the Texas Air National Guard for her serious look at that record when he was seeking the presidency. It concerned her then, and it led her to experience what the Congress is experiencing now in looking for the facts.
She has seen the media turn a corner, though, she hopes.
I think the mainstream media, particularly broadcasting, which at this point is a corporate-driven machine, is seeing that there is a growing practical advantage in truly serving the public, asking harder questions and characterizing situations in a way that is less overtly supportive of the Administration. That is finally beginning to happen, and I am glad to see it. No administration, Republican or Democrat, should be taken at its word. Skepticism of government should be part of every reporter’s tool kit. It is the American way and I am adamantly pro-American.
Mary Mapes has been through the centrifuge of Bush’s dirty tricks and survived with optimism and strength intact. The United States is approaching the end of them as well, and although it will take quite a bit of remedial work, we should all come out so well.
[If you would like to tell Mary Mapes a story that you think could help cure some of the ills we are suffering, if you would like to blow a whistle, she would be glad to hear from you. You can let me know, and I will pass it on to her.]
The entire question-and-answer email interview will be at cabdrollery and you can read more of it there.
NOTE There is plenty of evidence from other sources that Bush didn't fulfill his service obligations. There is also additional evidence that the CBS documents were mechanically produced. See here. --Lambert