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Mary Mapes's Darkest Hour

Mapes quickly gained a reputation for being dogged, fearless and fun. When Mabrey joined the bureau, the two did gospel brunches together, and argued over the death penalty: Mapes con, Mabrey pro. But Mabrey cites Mapes's coverage of a controversial death penalty case as an example of how Mapes did not allow her opinions to influence her work. "I think Mary is very fair, and I think she did not sugarcoat what Karla Fay Tucker did," Mabrey says, referring to the Texas inmate who was executed in 1998. "She would be the first one to tell you that she didn't think a person should be put to death, but she would also be the first one to tell you that these were horrible killings."

When the CBS scandal unfolded, Mabrey was out of the country and missed much of "the palace intrigue, the scuttlebutt." She has no idea if Mapes, or someone else, was duped on the story, though she acknowledges -- as her veteran "60 Minutes" colleague Mike Wallace also has said -- that it's possible for any journalist to get duped, no matter how tenacious.

CBS News producer Mary Mapes in 1999 when she refused to release transcripts of an interview to a Jasper, Tex., judge. (David J. Phillip -- AP)

McNamara worked closely with Mapes for years before she moved from CBS News to the "60 Minutes" team. In working with her on stories, he has observed firsthand her photographic memory and meticulous attention to detail. He also knows firsthand the challenges journalists face.

"Under the pressure of deadlines and competition, decisions are made that could get you into trouble," he says. "And most of the time, people don't get into trouble. But sometimes they do. And I think that there was a rush to get this story on in the face of competition, and it probably should have been checked out some more."

Who exactly is to blame? CBS is taking no action until the investigation is completed, and that's not expected to happen for weeks. But many CBS News staffers, including veterans, have quietly made up their minds: They are furious with Mapes, think that she has badly damaged the network, and they are upset that she has not been suspended at the very least. Those staffers, however, have repeatedly declined to voice their opinions on the record, citing the network's request that the situation not be discussed publicly while the investigation is underway.

"The bottom line is, a lot of us really like Mary and want to help her get through this," Murphy says. "If Mary did something wrong, she's going to pay for that, and she knows she's going to pay for that. But if she got caught in a crazy rush of a story and if a mistake was somehow made -- and I don't know if one was -- I hope people can understand that."

One week after the initial story aired, a former secretary in Bush's Guard unit, Marian Carr Knox, came forward to dispute the authenticity of the memos. She believed the underlying story -- her boss, she said, had complained that Bush was receiving preferential treatment -- but said she did not believe the memos themselves were genuine.

CBS decided that Rather should interview Knox for another segment on "60 Minutes." Mapes would be the producer. She flew from Dallas to the New York headquarters, arriving at about 4 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon, Sept. 15. The interview itself took about 45 minutes, finishing around 5. That left just three hours to do the work required to incorporate it into that night's segment, airing at 8. It was Mapes's job to make that happen.

"Everyone was getting a little nervous and hysterical," says Howard, the executive producer. "She sat there with a highlighter, going through the transcripts."

It was yet another example of what Howard describes as Mapes's ability to be "remarkably unflappable under pressure."

So how is she handling this pressure? Well, Mapes likes to joke that she has lost 10 pounds but, as Wrolstad dryly quotes her, "it's not a diet she recommends." She is still working on projects, confident there will be many more stories in her future. She is spending time with her family .

Mapes takes calls of support from friends, former subjects and sources. And she tries to maintain her sense of humor.

"I'm sure, at times, it's been difficult, extremely difficult. But she has incredible resolve," says her friend Mickey Flowers.

For now, though, Mapes's de facto statement comes through her husband: She did her job properly. She trusts in the process.

"You believe in yourself, and you rely on those who know you, and you rely on your exceptional reputation and your 15 years of solid work at your network and you move forward," says Wrolstad. "And you know that the truth is going to be known, and people are going to understand that you did things right."

In the interim, though, there is the waiting game.

"She has such a stellar reputation, I can't believe people have been so quick to question her integrity and her honorability as a journalist," Cohen says. "That's what is very dismaying to me. I feel that because of the competitive nature of our business as journalists, we're just so eager to jump on somebody who might stumble -- or is perceived to have stumbled. I just think of it as turning around to eat our young."

So Cohen sees it as her job to just keep Mapes laughing. Hence, the Tums. The romance novel she is utterly certain her friend will never read. And a note, to go along with the rest of it:

"Don't worry," Cohen says she wrote. "The pounds you've lost have found a new home on my hips. And they're here waiting for you, when it's over, and you're ready to have them back."

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