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."
Mapes bristled at investigators' questions on whether she is a liberal, but does not hide her zeal in taking on the president.
"Bush didn't keep his promise to the country," Mapes writes. "He swore he would fly military jets until May 1974 . . . ."
Perhaps her greatest fury is reserved for the "vicious" bloggers who pounced on the "60 Minutes II" report within hours -- and who she believes provided the map that major news organizations, including The Washington Post, essentially followed.
"I was attacked, Dan was attacked, CBS was attacked 24 hours a day by people who hid behind screen names," Mapes said. "I may be a flawed journalist, but I put my name on things." Some of the key bloggers, however, posted criticism under their own names.
Mapes said that her home address in Dallas was posted on the Internet and that she worried about her 7-year-old son. "It was scary. We had people coming by the house taking pictures, leaping out of pickups."
A low moment came when her father, from whom she has been estranged for 15 years, publicly accused her of trying to "promote radical feminism." Mapes says he was an abusive alcoholic.
"It was embarrassing," she said. "It made me feel bad. It made me feel I had absolutely no privacy left."
Despite her career implosion, Mapes hopes to stay in journalism.
"It's what I'm good at," she said. "I like making a difference."