The Blog

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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WHAT IS CERTAINLY ILLUMINATING is the degree to which Truth and Duty makes plain the level of malice Mapes has for the president. Although she offers herself as an impartial journalist searching for truth, her tract seethes with Bush hatred. Mapes suggests that Bush's "success in skewing the public perception of his military service was a prelude to his success in shaping public opinion around the reasons for the war in Iraq, the treatment of detainees, the need for a tax cut, and every political battle he has fought and won in his White House years." She refers to "the Bush campaign's aggressive pattern of sliming anyone and everyone who raised questions about the president." She describes Karl Rove as Bush's "über-adviser" and bizarrely credits him with masterminding "the Republican attack against the [60 Minutes II] story." Given her claims of the documents' authenticity, she absolves Rove of fabricating and planting the documents--"not that I believe Rove isn't capable of that kind of dirty trick."

It is a shame that those reviewers favorable to Mapes's book appear not to have read the Thornburgh-Boccardi report, which is full of information that discredits the segment in its entirety, belies Mapes's book, and establishes far beyond reasonable doubt that the documents on which Mapes staked her career are fraudulent. So, before Mapes's revisionism takes hold, let's look at the evidence of the documents' fraudulence in three areas explored by the report, all bearing on authentication of the documents.

(1) The source of the documents: There is no evidence that the documents came from Lieutenant Colonel Killian, as Mapes claims. The documents purport to derive from his "personal file." Killian died in 1984; his family denies that the documents emanated from him or them. The lack of any evidence to substantiate the provenance of the documents in Lieutenant Colonel Killian's "personal file" by itself highlights the absurdity of Mapes's argument for their authenticity.

We now know that Mapes's source for the documents was one Bill Burkett. How did Burkett come by the documents? The Thornburgh-Boccardi report notes that Burkett gave three explanations as to how the documents came into his possession, stories whose implausibility increases in each succeeding version. He first told Mapes that the documents mysteriously materialized in the mail. (Mapes omits this first explanation in her book.) He then told Mapes that the documents were provided to him by one George Conn, but that Conn would never admit to being the source.

Such was Burkett's story at the time of the broadcast; so apparently Mapes believed it. After the broadcast, when CBS set out to establish the authenticity of the documents, Burkett told his third and final version of the story. Here is Mapes's account:

Burkett told us that he had received a phone call in early March of 2004 from an unidentified man, who said that a woman named Lucy Ramirez wanted to speak with him. Burkett said he was told to call her at a Houston Holiday Inn that night between 7:00 and 10:00 P.M. and that he was given a specific room number to ask for. Burkett said that Ramirez told him she was a go-between, a person who was supposed to deliver a package to him.

Burkett told us that Ramirez made him promise that he would handle the package he received from her very specifically. He agreed to copy the documents inside, then burn the original papers he had received, which were also copies, not originals. He was also to burn the envelope they had come in. Burkett said that he agreed to this, assuming that Lucy or whoever she was wanted to destroy any DNA evidence that might be gleaned from the papers or the package they had come in.

Burkett said that Ramirez asked him if and when he would be in Houston and he told her he would be at the Houston livestock show within a couple of weeks, where he and his wife, Nicki, showed and sold Simmenthal cattle. It was an annual showcase for the breed and a good way to advertise the bull semen . . . they and other ranchers sold to make a living. Burkett told Ramirez what he would be working the front information booth at the show, which was held in a large arena.

Burkett said that on his first day working the booth he was handed the papers by a dark-skinned man. He said the man approached him, asked his name, and handed him a legal envelope. We were able to confirm with the cattle association that Burkett had indeed worked the front booth on that date. A coworker of his at the cattle show said that, as Burkett told us, he had asked her to hold a legal envelope for him while a man handed him the papers.