Wednesday, September 22, 2004

CBS News Producer's Liberalism No Secret

CBS Producer on Thin Ice After Guard Story
Spotlight Hits Behind-The-Scenes CBS Producer for Her Role in National Guard Documents Flap
The Associated Press

NEW YORK Sept. 21, 2004 — The fallout from CBS's doomed story about President Bush's National Guard service most endangers a woman few viewers know but who played a key role in two of the biggest television stories of the year.
Mary Mapes, a veteran producer at CBS News, reported most of the National Guard story, including obtaining the documents CBS now says it can't authenticate. She also passed on the phone number of her source, former Texas National Guard officer Bill Burkett, to the Kerry campaign.
Mapes, 48, was described by colleagues on Tuesday as a dogged and talented journalist who made no secret of her liberal political beliefs.
She's only a few months removed from a career-defining highlight. Mapes took a story that had received little attention the abuse of prisoners by American soldiers in Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison and unearthed the photos that gave the story its visceral impact.
"She pursued stories very aggressively always," said Jeff Fager, executive producer of "60 Minutes." "She definitely has an investigative sense. She was responsible for the bulk of the work on Abu Ghraib. That was her story."
The Dallas-based producer, who declined through a spokeswoman to talk with The Associated Press, also landed the first TV interviews with Strom Thurmond's biracial daughter and Hillary Rodham Clinton after her husband's impeachment. Mapes was almost jailed in 1999 for refusing a judge's order to turn over a videotape of Dan Rather's interview with a white man convicted of killing a black man by driving him behind a pickup truck.
She worked at Seattle's KIRO-TV before coming to CBS in 1989. In the "60 Minutes" tradition, producers like Mapes wield tremendous influence on the stories and operate with a great deal of independence a status earned after many years of proving themselves, Fager said.
John Carlson, a former commentator at KIRO-TV who is host of a conservative radio talk show in Seattle, remembers Mapes as a talented producer with whom he often argued politics in the newsroom.
Mapes was "quite liberal" and disliked the current President Bush's father, he said.
"She definitely was someone who was motivated by what she cared about and definitely went into journalism to make a difference," Carlson said. "She's not the sort of person who went into journalism to report the news and offer an array of commentary."
Carlson spoke with Mapes about the National Guard story a week ago, and said that he believes she "put so much time into it that she wanted something to come of it."
"This was a woman with a good reputation," he said. "The mistakes she made were so obvious. This was a story that was rushed because they clearly believed it was true. They wanted it to be true."
Rather acknowledged Monday that Burkett didn't come to CBS. The network approached him about the documents, knowing he had been trying for several years to discredit President Bush's military service record, he said.
In a USA Today story, Burkett said he agreed to turn documents impugning Bush's service widely considered now to be fake over to CBS on the condition CBS would help arrange a conversation with the Kerry campaign. Burkett's lawyer, Gabe Quintanilla, said he could not immediately confirm that Tuesday.
CBS acknowledged Mapes passed on Burkett's number to Kerry adviser Joe Lockhart, and Lockhart called him. Spokeswoman Kelli Edwards said CBS wasn't aware that this was part of any deal, but it's one of the things that will be examined by an independent commission CBS will soon appoint to look into the incident.
"It is obviously against CBS News standards and those of every other reputable news organization to be associated with any political agenda," Edwards said.
It had to be tempting: get key documents you've long been seeking to nail down a story, and all you had to do was set up a phone call.
Still, it's a lapse in journalistic ethics if true, said Marvin Kalb, senior fellow at Harvard University's Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy.
"Journalists do all kinds of odd things these days to get a news story," Kalb said, "but one of the things they should not be doing is paying the price of a political contact."
It's particularly damaging when news coverage is being scrutinized by both sides of a bitter political divide, said Frank Sesno, former CNN Washington bureau chief and professor at George Mason University. Even before this story, Rather and CBS News were targets of groups concerned about an anti-Republican bias in the media.
The Lockhart contact "is going to cast more doubt on not just the practices, but the motives behind the story," Sesno said.
"She's done many, many solid stories in her career," Fager said. "How this went so horribly wrong is a mystery to many of us and I like forward to hearing the details."


Newspapers Respond to '60 Minutes' Confession
By E&P Staff
Published: September 20, 2004 10:00 PM EDT

NEW YORK As CBS News took the big hit Monday for botching its use of suspect documents in a "60 Minutes" segment, newspapers responded with coverage that was appropriately harsh, while not often admitting that many of them, the day after the show was aired, accepted the network's claims about the documents.

Some papers, such as USA Today, quickly put together blow-by-blow accounts of the past 12 days for their Tuesday editions.

Tim Goodman in the San Francisco Chronicle asked: "Is Dan Rather theatrical enough to quit? And if not, would there be anyone at CBS News left to fire him who's not already going out the door with him?"

Leon Lazroff of the Chicago Tribune quoted a variety of newspeople, including former CBS correspondent Daniel Schorr, who said, "we are living in an era of people fighting over whether the media is liberal or conservative. So this gives substance to the allegations that news organizations are not on the sidelines."

The Detroit News editorialized: "When one media outlet hollers 'gotcha!' as CBS did with President Bush, it had better know exactly what it's got and whence it came, or all media -- and ultimately a free and informed society -- will pay the price."

Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post, who was in the middle of an online chat when the CBS apology broke, soon wrote a Web piece that concluded, "The statement represents a huge embarrassment for the network, but it may help defuse a crisis that has torn at the network's credibility."

His fellow Post columnist, E.J. Dionne, pointed out that "what's good for Rather, who is not running for president, ought to be good for George Bush, who is. 'There are a lot of questions and they need to be answered.' Surely that presidential sentiment applies as much to Bush's guard service as to Rather's journalistic methods."

In an editorial prepared for its Tuesday edition, the Seattle Post-Intelligence declared: "In the flap over the 35-year-old military records of George W. Bush and John Kerry, it seems poetic justice that discredit has fallen on those who would discredit them. First it was the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Now it's the Columbia Broadcasting System. That second violation of public trust is by far the more damaging."

Ken Herman in the Atlanta Constitution tracked down the lawyer for Bill Burkett, the man accused of snookering "60 Minutes." The attorney, David Van Os, put the blame on CBS. "They just did the slickest job of sweet-talking him," Van Os said. "Bill Burkett trusted and believed that CBS, being a huge news organization and with the resources to do so, would conduct a proper, professional investigation before they did anything. He now knows they haven't done it. It's obvious to the world they haven't done it."

The New York Times found another Burkett attorney, who also attacked CBS. It also spotted a fresh Burkett posting on an e-mail newsletter for Texas Democrats: "Don't believe everything you read -- even from CBS."

Indeed, as the Los Angeles Times put it, "Some say Bill Burkett is a crusader for the truth. Others say he's an angry veteran on a mission."

The New York Times was suffering from the unfortunate timing of finally, on Monday, producing its first major, front-page investigation of President Bush's mysterious "lost year" in the Guard in 1972, and then having attention deflected from it almost immediately by the CBS admission.