Dont Blame Me  | American Journalism Review
 AJR  Features
From AJR,   October/November 2005

Dont Blame Me   

Ousted CBS producer Mary Mapes, who gave the world the ill-fated report on President Bushs National Guard service, goes on the attack.

By Rem Rieder
Rem Rieder (rrieder@ajr.umd.edu) is AJR's editor and senior vice president.      


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.

CBS made a bad situation worse with its initial response of denial and counterpunch after the program came under fire. Mapes continues in that vein.

In an interview this week with ABC's Brian Ross, Mapes said that the report was "true." Dan Rather, Mapes' partner in this mess, made similar comments when the controversy first erupted. Well, it may be. But that's not the point. You don't go on air with something that might be true. You've got to show that it is by your reporting.

You don't do that with documents that seem shaky at best.

Oh, the documents. In perhaps the most shocking aspect of this sad saga, Mapes told Ross that it just wasn't her job to establish the validity of the documents. "I don't think that's the standard," she said.

It's not?

The documents disaster was yet another crushing blow to journalism's credibility. It seemed to give credence to all those conspiracy theories that the doggone liberal media was out to get President Bush (at least Mapes admits she shouldn't have made that call to a Kerry operative before the segment aired). Four people, including Mapes, lost their jobs. Rather stepped down early as anchor. And the episode no doubt played a role in the resignation of CBS News President Andrew Heyward.

But none of this is Mary Mapes' fault. Just ask her.

Mapes stayed silent for a year after the "60 Minutes Wednesday" report and her career imploded.

It wasn't nearly long enough.

###