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Mary, Mary: Rathergate producer Mapes and CBS News

By Nicholas Stix
web posted December 13, 2004

A few weeks ago, at Rather Biased, I came across a story about a CBS News producer who'd been fired,

"CBS Fires Trigger-happy Producer." "So, they finally got around to Mary Mapes," says I. No such luck. The tarnished Tiffany network had unceremoniously dumped a news producer for interrupting a broadcast of its popular new crime series, CSI: New York, for a report on the death of Arab terrorist Yasser Arafat. It seems while honesty in reporting counts for little at CBS these days, hot entertainment properties are sacred.

The November 13 Rather Biased dispatch follows:

"Friday both Reuters and Broadcasting and Cable magazine reported that CBS has fired the producer it blamed for preempting the network's popular 'CSI: New York' show to announce the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

"According to Reuters, the yet-to-be-named female producer ignored ‘explicit, advance instructions' that the official news of Arafat's death was not to interrupt regular programming. She also allegedly ignored CBS standard procedures which require the consent of a News Division executive to sign off on all such preemptions.

"The former CBSer is said to have been a producer at the network's insomniac news program ‘Up to the Minute,' which is used as a proving ground for young and inexperienced staffers.

"The firing is the second step the Viacom-owned web has taken to atone for its sin against its hot property ‘CSI.' Earlier in the week, CBS posted a message of apology on its web site and emailed a similar one to its affiliates.

"While the network's decision to apologize and fire the offending producer has raised eyebrows of some viewers, we suspect that most people would support the decision given that the news of Arafat's passing was not exactly a top concern of Americans -- particularly of those who had deliberately avoided the cable news death watch by watching an entertainment show.

"Like many of our readers, however, we do wonder why the preemption of 'CSI' is an immediate firing offense at CBS while deliberately ignoring warnings about forged documents in a blockbuster story is not."

Granted, the producer had violated a direct order not to interrupt the show without the permission of a superior officer. TV executives may have contempt for the military chain of command, but have zero tolerance for insubordination on their own turf.

Mary Mapes is the CBS News producer who most recently brought us the Abu Ghraib and Rathergate stories. The Abu Ghraib story presented American soldiers in charge of a section of the Abu Ghraib military detainee facility reserved for terrorists, as if they were torturers and war criminals. The story, which was reported separately by Mapes for CBS News and Sy Hersh for the New Yorker, represented in both cases an instance of defining journalistic deviance down. Hersh and Mapes both sought to recreate the scandal of Vietnam's My Lai massacre, but without the massacre. This is what happens when journalists go from seeing themselves as patriots supporting America , as they did in World War II, to seeing themselves as revolutionaries, destroying her, as they have since the War in Vietnam .

In Rathergate, Mapes used forged documents in an attempt to cost George W. Bush re-election, by presenting the then-Texas Air National Guard officer as a shirker, as insubordinate, and possibly even a deserter who succeeded only through the intervention of powerful friends.

Mapes' source for the forgeries, Bill Burkett, a former Texas Air National Guard lieutenant colonel with a longtime, public grudge against the Bushes, argued in his defense that he did not seek out Mapes; she sought him out. (Burkett has also denied that he produced the forgeries, though no one has been able to find the mystery woman that, he claims, gave him the forgeries.) At the time, CBS claimed Mapes had been "working on" the story for five years, yet she had nothing to show for it, prior to Burkett giving her the forgeries. And in spite of CBS News' document experts having doubts about the documents' authenticity, Mapes rushed the story onto the air four days later.

The September 19 New York Times quoted Mapes' executive producer, Josh Howard as saying, ''Mary Mapes told us her source made her completely confidentabout where they came from, and that they were authentic, and that made me confident..."

In an earlier, pre-TV era, Mary Mapes would have been fired for even suggesting the Abu Ghraib story to a major newspaper's editor. Prior to the War on Terror, it was unheard of to take minor excesses and seek to impugn and risk the lives of America 's soldiers, let alone to seek with a hoax to cost a wartime president the White House. And yet, prior to Rathergate, Mapes was one of CBS News' most respected producers.

(There is, however, an earlier case of the media seeking to cost a wartime president the White House with a true story – the Pentagon Papers case from 1971, involving Pentagon official Daniel Ellsberg, the Washington Post, and the New York Times during Richard Nixon's first term of office. Ellsberg broke the law, in leaking classified documents to the above-named newspapers. The same members of the SMSM who consider Ellsberg a hero for his leaks, have sought to have White House officials imprisoned for legally informing columnist Robert Novak that the wife of Nigergate fraud Joseph C. Wilson IV, Valerie Plame, is a CIA employee.)

Jailhouse Rock

You may be wondering if perhaps Mapes' misconduct was the product of an anti-Bush newsroom hysteria that gripped the socialist mainstream media (SMSM) during the 2004 campaign. After all, she couldn't possibly have been so respected at CBS News, if she had a history of dishonesty … could she?

Well. As Fox News reporter Brian Wilson revealed on September 22, Mapes had been reprimanded three years earlier by J.E. Gunja, the warden of the federal prison in Florence, CO, and stripped of her journalistic privileges regarding prisoner Peter Langan.

"In the letter, Warden J.E. Gunja spells out a scheme in which Mapes agrees to help secretly pass information between convicted white supremacist Peter Langan and another federal prisoner.

"‘Phone monitoring reveals that you agreed to this request ... This investigation was based, in part, on inmate Langan's admission to this attempt,' Gunja wrote.

"‘Your attempted misuse of the special mail privileges placed members of the public at risk,' the letter reads…."

Mapes may have seen what she did in Colorado as merely cutting a deal with the prisoners, in exchange for access. Apparently, it didn't occur to her, that federal prisons are not her personal playground. And had the information that Mapes passed between Langan and the other white supremacist been part of a criminal conspiracy (like, say, murder), she would have been an accomplice. Heck, she could have been prosecuted, in any event. Had an ordinary American been guilty of the same offense, I can assure you, he'd end up in the dock.

Note that, following the same m.o. as in Colorado, Mapes gave Rathergate hoaxer Bill Burkett access to DNC flack Joe Lockhart, in exchange for Burkett's "documents."

Now, Mapes has gone too far, even for an era which has seen the mainstreaming of treason. The only way to really unearth the Rathergate story, will be for a federal prosecutor to subpoena Mapes, Burkett, Lockhart, CBS News anchor Dan Rather, CBS News chief Andrew Heyward, DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe and perhaps others, in a criminal probe. Since Mapes and Rather were involved -- willingly or no -- in a felony, they can no longer hide behind the First Amendment.

The Producer as News Auteur

Producers are arguably the most powerful figures in TV news magazine journalism; they decide what stories are run, and they usually research and write them. Because of their status and behind-the-scenes role, they have either not been reported on, or have been presented as heroes (e.g., former 60 Minutes producer Lowell Bergman in the movie, The Insider). Mary Mapes should change all of that.

In a richly informative yet succinct article in the September 27 Chicago Tribune, "The Dirty Little Secret of TV Newsmagazines," John Cook interviewed longtime TV news pros on the role of the producer on TV news magazines like CBS' 60 Minutes, ABC's 20/20 and Prime Time Live, NBC's Dateline, etc.

"'Producer' is one of the most ambiguous terms in television news,' said Mark Feldstein, a professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University and former investigative producer for NBC News and on-air reporter for CNN. ‘The dirty little secret of television newsmagazines like "60 Minutes" is that the producer is really the journalist who does all of the important editorial work. The on-air correspondents at these prime-time newsmagazines are largely front people. They parachute into the story."

News stars like Dan Rather, Mike Wallace, et al., then are essentially actors in a drama created by a producer who functions like the movie director of auteur theory who has total creative control over a picture.

"'It's really a misnomer,' said Tom Yellin, a former ABC News producer who now heads up Peter Jennings' production company. ‘You're really talking about producer-director-reporter-writer-researcher.'"

Feldstein observed that the producer conducts most of the interviews, and Cook noted that the producer will usually write the script that the "reporter" reads aloud to the audience.

Rathergate was, however, an exception to the rule. As the Wall Street Journal's John Fund wrote on October 4,

"Mr. Rather has acknowledged that he was deeply invested in the story, and when he learned Ms. Mapes had gotten the documents from Bill Burkett, a controversial former National Guard lieutenant colonel, he asked Mr. Heyward to take charge. In an interview with the New York Times, Mr. Rather quoted himself as telling Mr. Hayward [sic], ‘I have to ask you to oversee, in a hands-on way, the handling of the story.' According to Mr. Rather, ‘He got it. He immediately agreed.'"

Rather and Heyward supported the story, based on their long acquaintance with Mapes, and their respect for her professionalism and character. Let's get better acquainted with that professionalism and character.

Same as She Ever was

Mary Mapes got her start in the news business at CBS' Seattle affiliate, KIRO. One of her early stories involved a 1987 police shooting of a black drug dealer. As John Fund chronicled,

"The [Erdman] Bascomb shooting angered many people in Seattle , and officials quickly organized an inquest. Then KIRO aired an incendiary story titled ‘A Shot in the Dark,' in which a previously unknown witness named Wardell Fincher accused the cops involved in the raid of lying. He said he saw officers arrive at the house, burst in with no warning and shoot Bascomb, who might not have even known the intruders were cops. The story shifted to possible criminal wrongdoing by the police. Mr. Fincher was summoned to the inquest, and previous witnesses recalled. The reporter for the sensational segment was Mark Wrolstad, now a reporter with the Dallas Morning News. The producer was his wife, Mary Mapes.

"Fortunately for the cops, Mr. Fincher wasn't the only one at the scene of the raid that night. A reporter for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Mike Barber, was tagging along with officers. Mr. Barber observed the officers arriving at the house, knocking, announcing themselves and then entering. He was there when the shooting happened and when the ambulances were summoned. At that point, a man 'reeking of alcohol' walked out of some nearby bushes and approached him. He wanted to know what had just happened. That was Wardell Fincher. But Mr. Fincher wasn't thoroughly checked out, so all this came out after the story aired. The police were eventually cleared but it took years and an unsuccessful civil-rights lawsuit by the Bascomb family to undo the damage.

~~~

"By that time, Ms. Mapes had left Seattle, and no one I talked with who worked at KIRO at the time can recall her being disciplined in any way for her mistake. Instead, in 1989 she was fast-tracked to the 'CBS Evening News' and later became Mr. Rather's hand-picked producer on ‘60 Minutes.' 'Maybe the National Guard mess would never have happened if she had been handled properly back then,' says one former KIRO reporter who still admires her work ethic and ability to break stories."

The admiring former KIRO reporter's attempt to find positives in Mapes' career reminds me of the rationalizations some New York Times staffers gave for the rise of Jayson Blair, because he supposedly "broke stories." Frauds like Jayson Blair and Mary Mapes don't "break" stories, they make them up.

Let's see what some bloggers had to contribute regarding Mary Mapes' professionalism and character (a tip of the hat to Michelle Malkin).

Random Nuclear Strikes

On Friday of last week, Seattle 's own John Carlson, of KVI 570 fame, got wind that Mary Mapes was involved in this latest crapfest [from] the MSM aimed at GWB.

Mapes is from the Seattle area and has worked in the local media. She worked at the same broadcasting station [KIRO] as Carlson did in the early 1990's, and Carlson shared some anecdotal stories of having to deal with Mapes as a co-worker on a day to day basis.

Let's just say that the stories weren't pretty. But they were funny.

Mapes thought of Reagan and GHWB were evil incarnate and said so on several occasions. When confronted with evidence of a mistruth spoken during a water cooler debate or pertaining to a mistake she had made in reporting a story, her usual MO was to say "oh well" and walk away.

AnalogKid at Random Nuclear Strikes:

I remember Mapes as a race baiting reporter who specialized in waiting until the local NAACP officials released a statement about police shootings and then start demanding what she called "justice" in her own special way.

Anywho, if she thought GHWB was evil incarnate, it isn't a stretch to think that she'd go anywhere or do anything to kick evil's son out of the White House...

You have to bear in mind, that there are thousands of Mary Mapeses out there, destroying people's lives for the sake of power, money, prestige, and the desire to bring down America . Every time I hear the phrase "liberal bias," my blood pressure goes up ten points. We're talking about Marxists here, folks.

Perhaps the worst indictment of Josh Howard, Dan Rather, and Andrew Heyward, is that they had confidence in, and respected Mary Mapes.

Ruthlessness ain't Always Bad

Mary Mapes is clearly a ruthless individual, and yet, unless one would shut down all news media, one must realize that merely being ruthless is not in itself a vice in the news business. In fact, it is a virtue, if you want to read and see great true stories.

The public's discontent with the media is not monolithic; it has several roots. One such root is the dominant SMSM's leftwing bias and increasing practice of fraud. Another is the related but not identical feeling that the media have contempt for the predominantly Christian folks in "flyover country" between the media subculture's landing zones in New York , Washington , DC, and Los Angeles . Though Republicans would have you believe that such contempt is limited to the SMSM, I think much of the Republican mainstream media (RMSM) is guilty of it, as well. "Flyover country" is more a mythic than a geographic notion. To media types, places like Queens and upstate New York are also "flyover country." A third, related source of discontent arises from journalists' ruthlessness in joyfully destroying the lives of ordinary people.

The problem in journalism isn't ruthlessness per se, but what kind of ruthlessness. Sources do not just appear on a journalist's doorstep every morning, dying to blow the whistle on corruption. But a journalist who can't cultivate sources, won't report many great or even good stories. And most people's complaints about the media notwithstanding, they WANT those stories. Big stories entertain readers and viewers, elevate their feelings of superiority over the "bad guys," permit them to feel pity (i.e., more feelings of superiority) for the "victims," feel fortunate ("There but for the grace of God go I"), give them something to talk about with family, friends, and colleagues, and help them make sense of the world. And smaller, blood-and-guts stories fulfill the same function, though not as powerfully, because they are usually briefer. As the TV news saying goes, "If it bleeds, it leads."

Let's look at some ruthless but honest reporters, from journalism's past.

Chicago, Chicago

In Richard Ciccone's biography of the legendary Chicago columnist, Mike Royko: A Life in Print, Ciccone tells a succinct yet vivid history of the hard-charging, hard-drinking, violently competitive tradition of Chicago newspapering that Mike Royko (1932-1997) in many ways embodied, and which may have died with him.

"Newsmen often participated in investigations rather than reporting on them. When a fugitive wanted for murder in Illinois was captured in Wisconsin , the Examiner reporter at Chicago Police Headquarters notified his desk that the cops were taking their time selecting a team to go collect the suspect. The Examiner sent its own team, which arrived at the small Wisconsin jail, flashed a few phony badges, picked up the murder suspect, returned him to a Chicago hotel, and had his interview all over page one the next day. Only then did they turn him over to police.

"When the first ‘Crime of the Century' took place in 1924, two brilliant University of Chicago students, Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, were the key suspects. Police took them along the route the young victim, fourteen-year-old Bobby Franks, had walked the night he disappeared only to be found the next day bludgeoned to death, his naked body dumped near a railroad culvert. In the car with the suspects and police were two Daily News reporters, who did most of the interviewing.

"A sensational murder did not have to take place in Chicago for Chicago newsmen to scoop the world. Two of the ‘telephone' legends of American journalism worked for the Hearst papers. In 1934, Harry Reutlinger, city editor of the American, telephoned America's greatest hero, Charles Lindbergh, at his Hopewell, New Jersey, estate and became the first reporter in the country to verify that the aviator's infant son had been kidnapped and that a ransom note demanded $50,000 for his return. No one knew how Reutlinger got Lindbergh on the telephone. He may have said he was [President] Franklin Roosevelt. A few years later, Reutlinger got a big beat when he made a ship-to-shore call to the burning luxury vessel Morro Castle off the New Jersey coast. Identifying himself as the owner, he convinced a young steward to supply him with all the details of the fire and had an exclusive in print before the New York papers, which were only a few miles from the scene.

"Reutlinger posed as a policeman, a sheriff, a coroner, or anyone else who could help him get the story. His successes were remarkable, because on another floor of the Hearst Building at 326 West Madison Street was an even more practiced telephone magician, Harry Romanov, the Examiner city editor.

"Collier's Magazine named Romanov as the world's greatest telephone reporter. Once he posed as the police commissioner and got through to a hospital where several dead and injured had been taken. The man who answered the phone provided all the details Romanov asked for and then said, ‘If you will get a paper and pencil, I'll give you names, ages, addresses, and extent of injuries of all concerned.' Romanov was so astonished at the degree of cooperation he was receiving that he blurted, ‘Who is this anyway?'

"‘Police Commissioner Fitzmorris, Romy. I knew you'd be calling.'"

Is This the End of Caesar?

Any day now, the CBS News internal Rathergate report will be completed and read by the executive suits in the executive suites at CBS' "Black Rock" fortress. When Rathergate became a full-blown scandal, CBS appointed former U.S. Attorney General and liberal GOP Pennsylvania governor Dick Thornburgh, and former Associated Press chief, Louis Boccardi, to investigate the matter. When the report comes out, Mary Mapes will likely be fired.

As Rather Biased reported on December 7, in "Mapes's Last Stand,"

"Mapes has been acting very much to save her professional skin, writing up a 68-page statement in her own defense and repeatedly lobbying the commission to persuade it of her view that the documents which she obtained from a Texas Democrat with a history of mental problems could be true in spirit, if not in fact."

She's still arguing that the story is "fake but true." What do detectives always say? "Criminals are creatures of habit."

To reiterate, what makes Mary Mapes bad news is not her ruthlessness, but her willingness to hype stories (Abu Ghraib) she has no business telling in the first place, and in other cases (the 1987 drug shooting, the Rathergate hoax), her willingness to spread lies, in order to harm those she hates.

And the problem with the Mary Mapeses of the world, is not limited to the phony stories they broadcast, but the countless true stories they squelch or ignore.

Dan Rather has announced that he will retire as evening news anchor on March 9, his 24 th anniversary on the job as Walter Cronkite's successor; pc understudy John Roberts is his likely successor. Andrew Heyward, who will likely be fired along with Mapes, will be replaced by one of the usual suspects, possibly Jeff Fager, who vouched for Mary Mapes' character.

And now, we return to our regularly scheduled program.

Nicholas Stix can be reached at Add1dda@aol.com.

 

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