Ousted CBS Producer Comes Out Swinging

CBS producer Mary Mapes with British soldiers and a young Afghan in Afghanistan in 2001.
CBS producer Mary Mapes with British soldiers and a young Afghan in Afghanistan in 2001. (Family Photo)
By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 9, 2005

After a year of silence about the biggest scandal in CBS News history, Mary Mapes has plenty to say -- about George W. Bush, Karl Rove, Les Moonves, her father, bloggers, the mainstream press and others who she believes contributed to her downfall.

What took her so long?

"I was extremely battered," she said in an interview yesterday. "I'd had months and months of having my head kicked around a soccer stadium by much of the Western world. I needed some time to regroup."

Mapes is now pushing a book, called "Truth and Duty," about the botched "60 Minutes II" story on Bush's National Guard service that led to her firing. She ladles out plenty of blame but largely defends what she still considers a fair piece of reporting, although an independent panel accused CBS of having "failed miserably" to authenticate the documents before rushing the story to air.

"I'm a human being; I do things wrong from the first breath I take in the morning," Mapes said. "I don't in any way feel I am without responsibility in this. . . . I probably shouldn't have been as pliable or as malleable as I was" when her bosses were finalizing the story. "This is a huge shortcoming. I didn't know how to say no. . . . I was trying very hard to please them."

She praises Dan Rather as "a tremendously loyal person" and says the story cost him his anchor job. "Dan was betrayed by a number of people, certainly by the company he has gotten up and worked for every morning for 40 years," Mapes said.

She is disdainful of Moonves, the CBS president who ordered the outside investigation. "He doesn't know journalism from dirt farming," Mapes said. In the book, noting that Moonves courted and then married "Early Show" anchor Julie Chen, she writes: "I used to say everything Les knows about journalism had been sexually transmitted. Now I know even that hasn't taught him much."

She says Viacom, CBS's corporate parent, threw her overboard because Chief Executive Sumner Redstone feared regulatory retaliation by the Bush administration.

Linda Mason, a CBS News senior vice president, said Mapes was fired because "her basic reporting was faulty. She relied on documents that could not be authenticated -- you could never authenticate a Xeroxed copy. She led others who trusted her down the wrong road." Viacom acted because its executives were "stunned at the report" and concerned about restoring CBS News's reputation, she said.

"Truth and Duty" unloads on Rove, the White House senior adviser, calling him "the mastermind of the Republican attack against the story." Asked about this, Mapes said Rove was "an inspirational figure" for the critics. "I'm not saying I had any proof at all" of his involvement.

Three of CBS's own document experts say they had warned CBS they could not authenticate the memos. Mapes's source for the documents, former National Guardsman Bill Burkett, later admitted lying about who had given him the memos said to have been written by Bush's long-dead Guard commander. "Document analysis is a real subjective profession," said Mapes, who still believes the memos are real. "You can find one to say yea or nay on anything."

Mapes is dismissive of Marian Carr Knox, the 86-year-old former secretary to Bush's late squadron commander, who told Rather she believed the memos were fake but the substance of the documents was true. Mapes called her "maddening" and "a quite self-righteous typist."

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