Former CBS News Producer and Author, "Truth and Duty: The Press, The President, and the Privilege of Power"
Friday, November 11, 2005 2:00 PM
Mary Mapes , one of the primary producers of Dan Rather's "60 Minutes II" report on President Bush's Texas Air National Guard service which aired in September, 2004, was online Friday, Nov. 11, at 2 p.m. ET to discuss the story, which precipitated her termination from the network, Rather stepping down as anchor of the "CBS Evening News" and an extensive inquiry at the news organization.
Rather Concedes Papers Are Suspect (Post. Sept. 16, 2004)
Rather Admits 'Mistake in Judgment' (Post, Sept. 21, 2004)
Dan Rather to Step Down at CBS (Post, Nov. 24, 2004)
A transcript follows.
Mary Mapes: Hello everyone. I appreciate the chance to talk with Washington Post readers.
Houston, Tex.: Who do you suppose actually forged this fake document?
Mary Mapes: You are wrong to believe that the documents have been determined to be forged. That has not happened. I personally believe the documents are not false.
Tempe, Ariz.: In the months since your termination at CBS, have you continued to follow up on the credibility of the 60 Minutes II Texas National Guard story, and if so, have you found concrete evidence either supporting or negating the claims made by your source, Bill Burkett?
Mary Mapes: I have followed up on the story and actually have obtained a new cache of documents from the Texas Air National Guard archives in Austin Texas. Some of these newly discovered documents contain proportional spacing, right hand signature blocks, odd abbreviations and other elements that were used to criticize the memos Bill Burkett gave me. I also talked with a person who worked with the Texas Guard and recounted a file scrubbing incident in 1997 that aligns with what Bill Burkett recounted to me. Some of the new docs also reference long waiting lists to get into the Guard in 1968 -72. They are in the process of being made available on the Web site for my book truthandduty.com.
St. Paul, Minn,: What is your standard for determining whether they are reliable, let alone forged? Do you need 20 percent certainty? 50 percent? Higher?
Mary Mapes: For me the standard is being convinced myself and as a part of a large group of coworkers. I felt I had four ways of verifying the documents: the endorsement of two of the document analysts, corroboration of Lt. Col. Killian's commander on the content of the memos, vetting of the memos by my group for bad information or small errors and a meshing of the new documents with those in Bush's official record.
Mary Mapes: truthandduty.com
Omaha, Neb.: In Appendix 4 of the Independent Review Panel, Peter Tytell, a widely acknowledged typewriter and document examination expert concluded that "the Killian documents were generated on a computer" and that they "were not produced on a typewriter in the 1970s and therefore not authentic." Given his indisputable expertise, wouldn't this end the debate as to whether or not they were forgeries?
Mary Mapes: Not at all. Document analysts disagree all the time. That is the point of the profession. They serve as expert witnesses in cases all the time. It is an art and science that is more akin to hair analysis than to DNA testing.
Besides, there is no one typeface or document analysis God. They are many people with experience.
Cincinnati, Ohio: The CBS memos appear to have been created in Microsoft Word. I've heard you recently say that the documents could not have been created in Microsoft Word. Can you explain?
Mary Mapes: The key is that they APPEAR to have been created in Word. That is a parlor trick that doesn't bear close scrutiny. We are preparing two things on the Web site truthandduty.com which will illustrate this fallacy. One is a comparison between the memos' font and Times New Roman, which was used to supposedly recreate the Word version of the memos. The other bit of evidence is a new exhaustive analysis that shows through wer on the letters that these memos were types not laser printed.
San Diego, Calif.: Do you honestly believe that your political opinions do not in any way influence what stories you decide to pursue?
Mary Mapes: I think every aspect of our lives leads us to cover certain stories. I have lived in Texas for 15 years. That led me to cover Karla Faye Tucker, the Oklahoma City bombing and George W.Bush. He was my governor before he was the president and I had an interest in him and access to information because of where I lived. Proximity not politics led me.
Bentonville, Va.: What was the official reason for your firing from CBS? Do you think you have grounds for a wrongful termination suit if they can't prove the documents were false?
Or is the issue that there were enough reasons to doubt them that the story should have been pulled postponed.
Mary Mapes: I was fired for airing a story that could not definitively be proved false but made CBS's public relations relations department cringe. I guess that was the reason. I am not a lawyer and don't know the ins and outs of a lawsuit. Sometimes in life, you just get hot coffee spilled on you at a restaurant, clean up and walk out rather than sue. I want to get on with my life.
Munich, Germany: If I recall correctly, one of the chief complaints against you regarding the National Guard Documents affair was that you informed someone from the Democratic Party of their existence, immediately after receiving them from your source. This seemed to put your objectivity in doubt.
How do you feel about this, and what are your thoughts on political journalism and the journalist's struggle to remain unbiased while reporting?
Mary Mapes: I did not inform anyone in the democratic party of their existence. Their rumored existence was one of the worst kept secrets in Texas in the summer of 2004. I passed on Bill Burkett's phone number to a press person at Burkett's request because he wanted to give the Kerry team advice about the Swift Boat attacks. I asked for permission before I did it, but I should not have made the call, permission or no. Still, it is pretty mild compared to the regular exchange of information that goes on in Washington, at least according to the Fitzgerald investigation.
Cincinnati, Ohio: Do you have evidence that the new cache of documents are authentic?
Mary Mapes: I have the word of the archivist who pulled them and his long record of splendid work on historical archive materials. His name is Steve Jones and he heads Lyon Research in Virginia.
Washington, D.C.: Are you bitter about your termination with CBS News? Are you trying to "get back" at them for firing you?
Mary Mapes: I am not bitter. I love CBS News and the people there and I always will. I had 15 wonderful years and four bad months. That is more than many can say about their careers. I can't "get back" at them. I did want to report what I thought was a fascinating story of media, politics, and history.
New York City, N.Y.: In your opinion, did Bush do his duty to serve his country in a time of war?
Mary Mapes: No and there are mountains of evidence to back that up.
Los Altos, Calif.: " Proximity not politics led me."
Can you offer a single example of a time when you pursued a democrat with a fervor equal to your pursuit of George Bush?
Mary Mapes: Dan Rather and I did an interview with Hillary Clinton shortly after the impeachment that had her press person so unhappy she attempted to cut off the interview. We covered the question of whether Clinton had botched a terrorist rendition during his term in office. And for years on the Evening News, when Clinton was president I covered all kinds of questions about whether or not government response was adequate in everything from the Oklahoma City bombing to prison policies. I have done my job as a reporter.
Fort Walton Beach, Fl.: Can you please address the issue posed by the bloggers concerning the National Guard documents? That is the typeface, fonts, etc., that didn't even exist in the early 70s, and are in fact an exact duplication of that produced using Microsoft Word.
Mary Mapes: Proportional spacing was developed in the 1940s and fine tuned in the 50s. The Texas National Guard had many machines capable of it in 1972. Superscripts were available. There is no doubt about this in research books or evidence.
There wasn't time or interest in reaching a reasoned conclusion in he overheated political atmosphere in 2004.
Burlington, Vt.: Do you feel that the mainstream media will be held to a higher standard of evidence in the future due to the prominence of Web logs such as the ones that exposed the documents as forgeries?
Mary Mapes: I think the Internet is a fabulous gift to all of us in building transparency in the mainstream media. It is also a tool for bullying political partisans to club people over the head because they perceive bias. Some of the people who attacked me and CBS acted, sadly, like 14 year old boys who had broken into their parents' liquor cabinet. Angry and drunk with power. That is unfair, unproductive and un-American.
Houston, Tex.: After watching Ms. Mapes with Bill O'Reilly last night, I concluded she has no judgment and no concept of reality. The only remaining question is how many other fraudulent reports did she, Dan Rather and CBS put on the air.
Mary Mapes: I can't wait to watch you on O'Reilly.
China: Dear Ms.Mapes:
Now looking back, have you ever regretted doing the piece that led to your dismissal from the CBS? Did you ever blame the publication of the book 'Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News' that exposes a lot going on in CBS?
As a veteran TV journalism producer, how do you view the difference from TV journalism and paper journalism? Would you acknowledge that paper journalism requires more on literacy than TV journalism?
Mary Mapes: You must be a print reporter.
St. Petersburg, Fla.: Do you believe the documents on which the 60 Minutes report was based are forgeries?
Mary Mapes: I do not.
College Park, Md.: Do you think Rather should have resigned from CBS? Are you still friends with him? Have you talked to him about all of this? Did he call you when you were terminated?
Mary Mapes: I do still talk to him. I consider him a friend. I think his resigning would be a loss for reporting in this country at a time when we need good reporters.
Fairfax, Va.: Do you plan to continue your career in broadcasting? Do you think your future has been compromised?
Mary Mapes: I think my future has been changed significantly. I miss television news but am hoping I can carve out a new second half of my career. And I love spending more time at home.
Grinnell, Iowa: Lt. Col. Killian's secretary said that while she thought the documents were fake, the information contained in them reflected the truth. Why wasn't more attention to her acknowledgement of the truth of the content.
Mary Mapes: I don't know. I thought Marian Carr Knox's testimony as to the truth of the content was very significant. Thanks for noticing.
Richmond, Va. : Ms. Mapes-
The more I think about it, the more it seems that CBS News/60 Minutes caves when considerable political or corporate pressure is applied. I would cite your case and Lowell Bergman's case regarding the tobacco industry. Isn't this what is wrong with the news business today - the suits run the newsroom?
Mary Mapes: Yes yes a thousand times yes.!!!
Great Falls, Va.: If as you put it, there are mountains of data to back up your claims, then why isn't it being played out by all other news sources? Why is it that your the only one that keeps coming back to take a bite at this apple when all others have moved on?
Mary Mapes: I think my rather sad public fate has persuaded others to look at other stories. I don't blame them. It is also a complicated annoying story that many people are afraid to discuss on the record.
Bellaire, Tex.: The scientific method requires that one formulate a hypothesis and then attempt to prove that hypothesis false. If unable to do so, it is taken as truth. Do you feel the scientific method is applicable to investigative journalism? If not, why?
Mary Mapes: That's an interesting concept. I have never thought of investigative reporting in that way.
Bowie, Md.: Ms. Mapes, based on your comments and your demeanor as evidenced by the tone of your responses, I am much less confident of the content that I see on news programming.
Mary Mapes: I guess I don't like your tone either.
Wilmington, Del.: You seem defensive, and you may have a right to be, but is there anything about the story that you regret, things that now, with the benefit of hindsight, you would do differently?
Mary Mapes: If I were worried about the health of my career, I would have done an interview with Britney Spears instead of the Bush story, I would have aird a story on overweight pets instead of Abu Ghraib. I think hard-hitting journalism is one of the most precious gifts our founding fathers gave this country and I didn't want to let them... or our viewers down.
Medford, N.J.: You described your critics as un-American? Isn't dissent patriotic?
Mary Mapes: Criticism is all American. Anonymous name calling is not.
Washington, D.C.: Has anyone ever spoken with anyone who actually served in the National Guard with Bush?
Mary Mapes: More times than you can imagine, beginning in 1999. Many of these people are quoted on the record in my book... for the first time.
San Diego, Calif.: To what extent do you believe the attempts to discredit your work were an organized campaign of the GOP and the White House? In other words, was this a real blogging campaign, or was it blogging that was manipulated by the Bush campaign/administration?
Mary Mapes: I think it was "astroturf" a created campaign made to look like grassroots. I don;t know that the White House was behind it but I can't imagine they didn't love it.
Washington, D.C.: When you were a "journalist" with CBS, you and Dan Rather claimed that you were pursuing a story and had no personal axe to grind with President Bush, in response to critics that said you were merely a stereotypical liberal activist masquerading as a journalist. But it seems pretty clear from your book that you do, in fact, loath Republicans in general and conservatives in particular. Weren't the critics right?
Mary Mapes: My mother was a lifelong Republican who died while planning to vote for George W. Bush. I would give the world to have had a chance to drive her to the polls. I have chosen to live in Texas, a deep red state for the past 15 years. I have friends and family members who are conservatives. I have voted for Republicans and Democrats. I am an American who likes talking politics and people of all political stripes. I don't know what you're talking about or what you're so mad about.
Chicago, Ill.: How do you respond to document examiner Emily Will's refutation of your book at: Memo-Gate
Mary Mapes: Haven't read it.
Bowie, Md.: In her column yesterday Tina Brown wrote, that "snuffing out firecrackers like Mapes and -Judith- Miller is a loss to the news business." Can you comment on that?
Mary Mapes: It is fun to have a firecracker like Tina Brown call me a firecracker. This country does need hard-driving reporters, male or female.
Mary Mapes: Thanks for all the great questions. This was fun.
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.