John Koblin reports in the New York Times on the Times‘s own love-in last week featuring Robert Redford, Cate Blanchett, Dan Rather, and Mary Mapes discussing the Rathergate film Truth. Rich Lowry likened the festivities to “a dispatch from another planet.” Koblin’s report captures none of the weirdness. It’s just another day’s work. Perhaps most notably, Koblin observes strict limits reflecting his apparent lack of knowledge regarding Rathergate itself. To my disappointment, he fails to offer any explanation of what the Times was doing celebrating the greatest journalistic fraud of our time. Hey, John, you have heard that the Bush/Guard story was a stinker, haven’t you? What was the Times doing hosting festivities for the perpetrators?
Perhaps Koblin doesn’t understand that the story giving rise to Rathergate was both false and fraudulent. Here is how Koblin describes the controversy: “The battle lines are clear: CBS said it could not prove the documents were real and the story was bogus as a result; Mr. Rather and Ms. Mapes maintain that no one can prove that they were forgeries. The movie relies on information that has long been in the public record.” No one familiar with the information “in the public record,” however, would formulate the “battle lines” as an epistemological standoff of the he said/she said variety.
To get the “he said,” Koblin partially quotes the statement released by chief CBS spokesman Gil Schwartz. Koblin prefaces the statement by observing that the prospect of revisiting the case was “not at all appealing to CBS.” Hey, John, that would be because the scandal was the greatest disgrace in the history of CBS.
Koblin provides only a truncated quote from Schwartz’s statement to the effect that it is “astounding how little truth there is in ‘Truth.’ There are, in fact, too many distortions, evasions and baseless conspiracy theories to enumerate them all.” Koblin ends it there, but Schwartz’s statement continues:
“The film tries to turn gross errors of journalism and judgment into acts of heroism and martyrdom. That’s a disservice not just to the public but to journalists across the world who go out every day and do everything within their power, sometimes at great risk to themselves, to get the story right.”
That’s the rest of what CBS spokesman Schwartz had to say. Koblin put in a call to former CBS News president Andrew Heyward, who fired Mapes for gross journalistic misconduct. Koblin quotes Heyward:
Andrew Heyward, the former president of CBS News, who was not portrayed kindly in Ms. Mapes’s book, said he had not seen the movie but was familiar with its story line. He expressed outrage in a telephone interview. “It takes people responsible for the worst embarrassment in the history of CBS News, and what was at the time a grievous blow to the credibility of a proud news organization, and turns them into martyrs and heroes,” he said. “Only Hollywood could come up with that.”
Only Hollywood and the New York Times!
Heyward’s quote may be the most realistic comment to appear in the Times on this whole disgusting episode. Not surprisingly, Dan Rather’s may be the most unreal. Rather wants readers to make up their minds based on — wait for it — the movie! In a brief telephone interview, Rather told Koblin: “I just hope people see the movie and make up their own mind.” Because Hollywood is such a reliable source of history! See, e.g., Oliver Stone’s JFK.
Koblin memorializes Mary Mapes’s Bartlett’s-worthy quote from the Times love-in: “There is a tremendously strong perception that we bungled, bungled, bungled very badly. I think we were within the normal journalistic range of bungle.”
For “bungle” I would read “bias” and “malice,” and then concede Mapes may have been within the normal journalistic range of bungle at CBS News, and among Mapes’s fans at the Times.