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Second Time's a Charm?

Mary Mapes comes back for more.

11:00 PM, Nov 28, 2005 • By SCOTT W. JOHNSON
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MARY MAPES IS BACK. With her memoir, Truth and Duty: The Press, The President, and the Privilege of Power, the former CBS News producer is trying to write a second act for her career. Sadly, if her book is any indication, her second act is just a repeat of the first.

Mapes was the producer of the CBS 60 Minutes II segment on President Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard that aired on September 8, 2004. According to the segment, President Bush had received preferential treatment in being admitted to the Guard, and once in, had served dishonorably. The segment predicated the latter theme on four 1972 and 1973 documents from the "personal file" of Lieutenant Colonel Jerry Killian, then-Lt. Bush's commanding officer in the Texas Air National Guard. CBS had obtained the documents from a confidential source. In the online version of the story, CBS posted PDF versions of the four documents.

The authenticity of the documents was originally attacked on the website Free Republic by an anonymous poster (since revealed to be Atlanta attorney Harry MacDougald) late on the evening of September 8. Throughout the following day, blogs including Power Line explored the apparent phoniness of the documents by posting information received from readers and fellow bloggers. At Little Green Footballs, blogger Charles Johnson announced by mid-morning that he had created an exact copy of one of the four CBS documents on Microsoft Word default settings, with the font set on Times New Roman; he declared the documents forgeries. (Mapes says this replication "proved nothing, other than the fact that computers can replicate all kinds of things.")

The 60 Minutes II segment unraveled quickly. Mainstream media outlets followed up on the issues raised by the blogs. For 12 days CBS stood behind the broadcast. On September 20, CBS apologized for the story. It also appointed former Attorney General Richard Thornburgh and former AP head Louis Boccardi to an "independent review panel" to investigate the affair.

Surveying the chain of events which led to CBS abandoning her story, Mapes now proclaims that rabid right-wing blogs have joined forces with Fox News, talk radio, and "magazines like THE WEEKLY STANDARD" to form "a well coordinated attack machine out there in the media world, a monster that waits in the woods for an opening and then overpowers its victim." It hardly needs to be said that Mapes sees herself--not President Bush--as the victim.

LAST JANUARY, the independent review panel issued its report and CBS promptly fired Mapes. In Truth and Duty Mapes attacks the Thornburgh-Boccardi report and proudly stands behind her 60 Minutes II segment. She reiterates her disparagement of President Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard and supports the authenticity of the documents in question based on her "meshing" analysis, claiming that they neatly fit with the known facts of Bush's service. (They don't; more on that later.)

The reviews for Mapes have been surprisingly positive (see Kenneth Bunting in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Ed Bark in the Dallas Morning News, and Paul Farhi in the Washington Post). Even the mixed notices, such as Jonathan Alter's essay in the New York Times Book Review, find Mapes's book worthy of serious consideration. For his part, Alter deems Mapes's counterattack on the "cyber-lynch mob" among "the most illuminating parts of the book."