What a mesh

I’ve spent the last few days reading Mary Mapes’s Truth and Duty: The Press, the President, and the Privilege of Power. Mapes was of course the producer of the September 8, 2004 60 Minutes II segment attacking President Bush’s Air National Guard Service.

The book is infuriating in so many ways that it would take an inordinate amount of space to do justice to it, and I’m not sure whether to take it seriously. Yet it has won remarkably favorable notices in respectable venues such as the Washington Post, for example, where Paul Farhi had kind words for it in “Lashing back over the memo scandal.”

It is a deeply dishonest book that takes advantage of the ignorance, gullibility, and derangement of its target audience. It depends on its readers’ complete ignorance of the record in general, and of the Thornburgh-Boccardi report on the 60 Minute broadcast segment in particular. Reviewers like Farhi seem not to have the slightest knowledge of the subject.

The Thornburgh-Boccardi report is available for free on the Internet, posted among other places at the Web site of the Kirkpatrick & Lockhart law firm that served as counsel to the Thornburgh-Boccardi review panel. The report is full of information that discredits the segment in its entirety, belies Mapes’s book, and establishes beyond reasonable doubt, if not to a moral certainty, that the documents on which Mapes staked her career are pathetic frauds.

When the report was issued this past January, CBS fired Mapes. In the book she fires back, so to speak, standing behind both elements of her story — the proposition that Bush received preferential treatment in admission to the Guard, and the proposition that the documents she procured from Bill Burkett authentically demonstrate the dishonorable nature of President Bush’s service in the Guard.

In this brief post I want to take up only the first of these elements of her story. The September 8 broadcast predicated the claim of preferential treatment on the testimony of Ben Barnes, who allegedly contacted the (now deceased, of course) head of the Texas Air National Guard, General James Rose, to help secure Bush’s admission. As an active Kerry supporter, Barnes was himself highly motivated to do whatever he could to assist the Kerry campaign, and, given Rose’s death, Barnes’s story was completely unverifiable.

Mapes had originally begun work on the story of Bush’s alleged preferential treatment in 1999. The Thornburgh-Boccardi report notes that Mapes had been informed in 1999 that there was no waiting list for President Bush’s Texas Air National Guard unit at the time he entered: “Mapes posited the ‘darkest spin’ that then-Colonel Walter Staudt, then in charge of the 147th Interceptor Group, deliberately kept these spots open ‘to take in the children of privilege…while maintaining deniability.’ Mapes told the panel that she never found any proof for this theory.”

On the contrary, three witnesses with first-hand knowledge told Mapes in 1999 that Bush received no preferential treatment or assistance of any kind in addmission to the unit as a pilot. She was told this by Colonel Rufus Martin, Personnel Staff Officer of the unit. She was told this by Major General Bobby Hodges, who stated to Mapes that the unit was “hurting for pilots at the time” due to “big turnover.” She was told the same thing by General Staudt himself, who interviewed Bush in May 1968 before he was admitted into the Guard. Staudt told Mapes: “No influence was used to get [President Bush] into the Guard. Nobody called me.” In the book, Mapes dismisses Staudt as a “foulmouthted Bush loyalist[.]” (I should add that if Staudt is foulmouthed, he’s got nothing on Mapes, whose book is a study in vulgarity.)

The book implies that Mapes was later told the same thing by other members of Bush’s Guard unit including Dean Roome, Maury Udell, Tom Honeycutt, and Albert Lloyd — “but something bothered me about their comments.” She was apparently so bothered by the comments that she found no place for them in her script for the September 8 story.

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