The issue of the Weekly Standard out this morning carries two excellent articles on the Rathergate report. John Podhoretz portrays Mary Mapes as the victim of the Big Con in “Political bias? What political bias?” (Is it a coincidence that Bill Burkett stated at various points that George Conn played a key role in Burkett’s acquisition of the fraudulent documents?) Key paragraphs:
The problem with the story wasn’t that it was rushed to air. The problem with the story wasn’t that it violated journalistic protocols. The problem was that the story was a lie based on a fraud, and a conveniently timed lie at that–coming as it did only eight weeks before the nation was to go to the polls. And the lie was laid out before the world for all to see in a matter of hours.
The documents weren’t exposed as possible fabrications. They were exposed as undeniable fabrications. Why is this so hard for CBS and for Thornburgh-Boccardi to accept? Because once you accept their spuriousness, you can’t stop there. You have to ask the question: Why would everybody at CBS fall for such crude forgeries–forgeries so blatant that a lawyer with no particular expertise in document verification could spot them a few hours after the fact?
As for Mapes, Podhoretz states that she “believed the forgeries were real because she wanted to believe the forgeries were real.” Podhoretz’s reconstruction of the events here, and his portrayal of Mapes as a victim rather than a perpetrator of the fraud, depend on Podhoretz’s application of a story line consistent with “The Sting.”
In order to buttress his argument, however, Podhoretz credits Mapes’s statement earlier this week that “she still believes [the documents] are real.” However, it is not apparent why Podhoretz credits this statement as representing Mapes’s true beliefs. She could be lying now about her state of mind, and one could infer that she was lying in September regarding her belief in the authenticity of the documents. The Rathergate report shreds Mapes’s credibility as a witness; she is a baldfaced liar.
Podhoretz doubts that Mapes knowingly perpetrated a fradulent story on the ground that Mapes surely “didn’t want to end her career in disgrace.” But Mapes might have perpetrated a fraud if she believed that she wouldn’t get caught. She certainly had evidence in hand that belied her story and her purported belief in the documents’ authenticity.
What accounts for the false statement in the 60 Minutes story that an expert had authenticated the documents when none of the four experts consulted for the report had done so? What accounts for Mapes’s other misrepresentations regarding the experts’ review of the documents during the internal pre-broadcast meetings? (See generally report pages 73-77, 85-87, 106-111, 114-115, and 123.) Is it reasonable to rule out the possibility that Mapes was a knowing perpetrator of the fraud? I think the question must be held open.
Jonathan Last elaborates on his previous indictment of the report in “The CBS whitewash.” See also Last’s Galley Slaves posts “Newcomer is back!” and “Crumple zone.”
HINDROCKET adds: The fundamental question is whether CBS was the victim of a hoax, or the perpetrator of a hoax. The answer is important. If CBS, formerly considered American’s premier news outlet, deliberately passed off fake documents and a false story in hopes of influencing a Presidential election, it’s one of the most significant stories in the history of American journalism.
The Thornburgh report itself provides at least two strong reasons to come down on the side of “perpetrator.” First, it documents not just carelessness in the preparation of the 60 Minutes story, but affirmative misrepresentations. Most notably, the report says that 1) the 60 Minutes program lied about the documents having been authenticated by experts, and 2) with respect to the interview with Robert Strong, the other alleged source of “authentication,” every single clip that 60 Minutes played was “either inaccurate or misleading.”
A second key point made in the report is that Mary Mapes learned, in the course of her five years of research for the story, that its essentials were untrue. Her file reflects that she was told that influence was not used to get President Bush into the Air National Guard; that there was no waiting list for pilots at the time that he joined, but that the TANG was actively seeking pilots; and that, far from trying to avoid service in Vietnam, Lt. Bush had actually volunteered to go to Vietnam but was turned down. Mapes never got any information to contradict any of these three facts.
So she knew that the story she broadcast was false not only in its details but in its essentials, and she broadcast it anyway; and there is strong circumstantial evidence suggesting that she did so in close coordination with the Democratic National Committee and the Kerry campaign. I would conclude that CBS was anything but the victim of this story.