With humor and candor?

Jonathan Alter reviewed Mary Mapes’s Truth and Duty for the New York Times Book Review four weeks ago. I thought that Alter’s review gave far too much credit to Mapes’s argument for the veracity of the fraudulent 60 Minutes story that was Mary’s Baby. Alter’s review provoked me to write my own review of the book for the Standard in “Second time’s a charm?” Yesterday the Times published Mapes’s letter to the editor responding to Alter’s review. Given our interest in the story, we’re taking the liberty of posting Mapes’s letter in full below:

To the Editor:
A thousand times, yes! The bogus questions about typeface used to “discredit” CBS’s Bush/Guard story were a fraud, as Jonathan Alter wrote in reviewing my book, “Truth and Duty” (Nov. 20). He’s also right that the so-called independent panel was a legalistic/ corporate inquisition against the news division I love. I guarantee you that, given the chance, Dick Thornburgh, his firm’s lawyers and Lou Boccardi would find even Alter’s work sadly lacking. Despite the millions that CBS paid, the panel got a lot wrong and still won’t answer for it, just as the president has never explained his aborted military service. CBS panicked over the blog attack and strained to appease the right, whose tactics against us were the same as with Wilson, Plame, Clarke and other administration “critics.”

Alter can question our source, as I have, but here’s what nearly everyone missed: The overhyped typeface criticisms ingeniously hijacked the story and created a false controversy, which media competitors gleefully exploited as proof that CBS had fallen short. In fact, ALL the evidence supported the documents’ genuineness and that holds true today. We carefully vetted their every detail, matched them with official records and corroborated their content with a former commander. Our document analysis has been completely misconstrued by reporters, pundits and the panel: two analysts validated the documents’ typing and signatures and two others deferred to them before our broadcast, despite their later characterizations.

Our work met every journalistic standard. When has a journalist ever had to ink test a document before reporting otherwise validated information? By that measure, Americans never would have had the Pentagon Papers or 10,000 other stories. The furor that Dan Rather, “60 Minutes II” and I faced was withering and wrong. With humor and candor, I’ve tried to reexamine this case, its unfair outcome and the questions it raises for journalism and our country. I hope others will, too.

Mapes’s letter is rich with material. Let us pause over her attribution of “humor and candor” to her book. Mapes is a bit long on self-congratulation and a bit short on self-knowledge. Whatever humor she writes with is surely unintentional. As for candor, to pick just one small point, Mapes is the lady who couldn’t recall what political party she belongs to when asked by Bill O’Reilly in his interview with her on Fox News. Her book persuades me that she is quite a cunning liar, a conclusion that virtually leaps from the pages of the Thornburgh-Boccardi report based on the testimony of the participants involved in the production of the 60 Minutes story.

JOHN adds: I think it’s in the movie Z where an elderly general who had plotted a coup is being driven off to prison–I could be wrong about this detail–and someone mentions the Dreyfus affair. The general turns and says, “Dreyfus was guilty!” No doubt, just as there will always be a few who insist that Dreyfus was guilty, the Holocaust was a hoax, etc., there will always be some who believe that the CBS documents were really genuine, notwithstanding a complete lack of evidence to that effect. It is to this audience–the die-hard ignorant–that Ms. Mapes addresses her argument.


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