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Mary, Quite Contrary

Since Public Eye wasn't on the pre-approved list of reviewers for the book written by former CBS News producer Mary Mapes about Memogate, we had to wait until it hit bookstores yesterday to get a copy. I'll have my review of Mapes' account when I've read the entire book but in the meantime it's worth pointing out some of the comments and reaction to her PR tour for the book. For the most part, you can take what you want from these tidbits I've pulled out. I'll have my say soon, but you can read my earlier take on Memogate here.

In her first television interview since the National Guard story, Mapes sat with ABC's Brian Ross to talk about the events surrounding the story and her book. She defended the story and asserted, "I think I'm somebody who got fired for trying to do their job in a difficult atmosphere," adding, "I don't think I committed bad journalism. I really don't."

Ross asked Mapes if she still believed the story on President Bush's National Guard service was true and she answered, "absolutely." She said of the Killian memos, which were used to validate the story before their authenticity came under intense scrutiny, that they have not proven to be inauthentic, adding, "I'm perfectly willing to believe those documents are forgeries if there's proof I haven't seen." Ross asked Mapes if the standard ought not to have been for her to prove their authenticity, to which she responded, "I don't think that's the standard." (If that's not a basic standard of journalism and professionalism, I don't know what is).

CBS News responded in a statement sent to Ross, parts of which he read on the air. The full statement, sent to PE at our request:

"Mary Mapes' actions damaged CBS News as an organization and brought pain to many colleagues with whom she worked. Her disregard for journalistic standards--and for her colleagues--comes through loud and clear in her interviews and in the book that attempts to rewrite the history of this complex and sad affair. As always, revisionist history must be tested against the facts. Not only are those facts contained in the extensive media coverage that took place at the time, but also in the 200-plus-page report of the independent panel (here), which investigated the matter for more than three months. We believe those facts speak for themselves.

The idea that a news organization would not need to authenticate such important source material is only one of the troubling and erroneous statements in her account."

In an interview with Washington Post media writer Howard Kurtz, Mapes "says Viacom, CBS's corporate parent, threw her overboard because Chief Executive Sumner Redstone feared regulatory retaliation by the Bush administration." Linda Mason, senior vice president for standards and special projects, responds in the story that 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." Mason told Kurtz Viacom executives were "stunned at the report."

In an interview with Anthony Violanti of the Buffalo News, Mapes strikes a still-defiant note, saying "with a laugh":

"If you're going to have a human sacrifice, you have to have a woman to throw into the volcano and hope the gods are satisfied. You can't have a witch hunt without the witch. But it's a bitch to be the witch."

"Still, I'm going to feel better than some reporters in this difficult era that we're going through. I could have done worse than sticking by my guns and doing provocative reporting. I think a lot of reporters lost the guts to do it."

And she adds:
"I didn't write this book to bash CBS News, I'm not trying to be Bernard Goldberg with bad hair. I love CBS dearly and this country is better with a strong CBS News. This book is about the direction the corporate leaders and ownership are taking the news department in."
Mapes tells Ed Bark at the Dallas Morning News that she's prepared for the attacks on her account:
"I know there are some people out there waiting in the dark beside their computers, people who are going to zing off things about how wrong and stupid and ugly I am, how I'm a fool and a liberal tool. I fully expect that."
Also in the Washington Post, staff writer Paul Farhi reviews the book, concluding:
"It's entirely possible that Mapes was wrong -- very wrong -- about Bush's military record. But that's still only theoretical. Mapes doesn't establish the authenticity of the disputed memos here (she can't -- not without Killian, and not without the original documents to test and examine). But then, no one has definitively shown them to be forgeries, either. The 'independent' panel that CBS hired to look into the story (composed primarily of lawyers, not journalists, and co-chaired by a former Republican attorney general) cast plenty of doubt on the story and CBS's handling of it. But it never said the report was baseless, never accused Mapes or Rather of political bias or called the memos fraudulent."
(Note to reviewer – the independent panel was co-chaired by journalist Louis Boccardi, someone who knows a little about that side of the issue).

This is day one of Mapes' press tour to promote her book, we'll be hearing much more from her as the days go forward and we'll try to bring you the highlights, commentary and our take on it all. As I said, my book review will be coming soon.

Update: American Journalism Review's Rem Rieder weighs in with his take.

"It's everyone else's fault.

That, essentially, is the position of Mary Mapes, the producer behind CBS' deeply flawed report on President Bush's National Guard service.

In a new book called "Truth and Duty" and in a flurry of interviews, Mapes kicks a lot of sand, as Patrick Fitzgerald might say, at everyone from CBS pooh-bah Les Moonves to noted architect Karl Rove to the blogosphere.

What she doesn't do is accept any responsibility at all for putting on air a report based on questionable documents furnished by a source with an ax to grind, papers that three of CBS' own document experts warned were problematic.

The independent report on the ill-fated program by former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh and ex-Associated Press chief Lou Boccardi was a withering look at a piece of shoddy journalism.

But it's clear Mapes hasn't learned anything from the debacle. All she wants to do is attack."