Harry MacDougald: “Truth” and other lies (2)

The film “Truth” will be released commercially later this month to retell the Rathergate scandal from the perspective of Mary Mapes. The film is based on Mapes’s almost laughable 2005 Rathergate memoir. The left routinely seeks to rewrite even yesterday’s news; events eleven years ago, when Mapes committed her misconduct, have now attained the status of ancient history. John and I therefore sought to reiterate the basic facts of the Rathergate scandal in the Weekly Standard article “Rather shameful.”

Our article is intended to constitute Rathergate 101. Now comes Atlanta attorney Harry MacDougald — the pseudonymous “Buckhead” — to give us Rathergate 102. As we do in our article, Mr. MacDougald draws on the inexhaustibly rich Thornburgh-Boccardi report; the report is the necessary antidote to the lies of “Truth.” Mr. MacDougald writes:

In the heat of the 2004 Presidential election campaign, CBS’s 60 Minutes Wednesday was caught red-handed using forged documents to attack President Bush and help John Kerry. The segment’s producer, Mary Mapes, was fired, while longtime CBS anchor Dan Rather stepped down from the anchor position in advance of any disciplinary action and was subsequently let out to pasture at the end of his contract.

Mapes wrote a memoir of her foreshortened career. Titled Truth and Duty: The Press, the President, and the Privilege of Power, the memoir cast Mapes as the Joan of Arc of investigative journalism, burnt at the metaphorical stake for bravely telling the truth about President Bush. Mapes insists the fake documents are not fake and that her story was true because it “meshed” with a series of disparate “facts.” Essentially no one took up her cause and the book sold few copies. It received a thorough deconstruction by Scott Johnson at The Weekly Standard.

Dan Rather didn’t take his departure from CBS lying down either. He filed a ridiculous lawsuit against CBS. Having not a leg to stand on, he lost the lawsuit. He still insists the 60 Minutes story was true, eliciting, in unequal measure, both merciless ridicule and kindly tolerance for a peculiar old coot with a charming fondness for colorful folk sayings.

Eleven years have now gone by. The details were receding into the dustbin of history, forgotten except as a general marker of how ankle-biters on internet, “amateurs in their pajamas,” could bring low a legendary network news anchor depicted as the Voice of God.

Hollywood, more specifically, Mythology Entertainment, decided to make a movie out of Mapes’s story. The movie is titled Truth, though that does not make it true. It was shot in Sydney this past fall (Australia’s spring), and is to be released commercially on October 16, 2015. It premiered at the Toronto Film Festival on September 12 and was the subject of many reviews in top newspapers. It stars Robert Redford as Dan Rather and the lovely Cate Blanchett as Mary Mapes, which is a clue that not everything in the movie is true.

The true story has the elements of classical mythology –- ambition, arrogance, immense and unaccountable power, blind hubris, and Faustian bargains leading to professional self-destruction. But that is not the movie Mythology Entertainment has made.

Bloomberg columnist Megan McCardle warned these moviemakers in a long open letter explaining many of the problems with Mapes and her story. In her usual way, McArdle was generous to those with whom she disagreed. She was far too kind.

The Thornburg-Boccardi Report, commissioned by CBS while in Fukushima-style damage control mode, was another klaxon warning. No one reading that report could possibly believe that Mapes either told the truth or did her duty in the Bush National Guard story.

But even the otherwise excellent Thornburgh-Boccardi Report pulled its punches on a couple of critical points. Mapes and Rather find refuge in the report’s failure to conclude definitively that the documents were fake. What the report actually said was this: “The Panel has not been able to conclude with absolute certainty whether the Killian documents are authentic or forgeries.” Report p. 4 (emphasis added). This “absolute certainty” standard exceeds the standard of proof even in a criminal trial, and is unknown to legal or forensic investigations. This preposterously high threshold was a dodge to avoid the obvious and undeniable conclusion that the documents were fake, as shown by their typography and a large number of small but very telling details drawn from the content of the documents and the surrounding circumstances.

The Thornburgh-Boccardi panel commissioned an analysis by the foremost typewriter expert in America, Peter Tytell. His meticulous analysis, set out in Appendix 4 of the Report, concluded the documents were fake because they were prepared on a computer and could not have been produced on any manual or electric typewriter of the 1970s. “According to Tytell, the Killian documents are proportionally spaced and therefore could not have been produced by monospaced typewriters, which constituted a substantial majority of the typewriters available in the early 1970s.” Appendix 4, p. 4. “Based on a comparison of the significant typographic features in the Killian documents against the available IBM Selectric proportional spacing typestyles, Tytell concluded that none of the IBM Selectric typestyles is a match to the typestyle in the Killian documents.” Id. at p. 5. Tytell also ruled out the Selectric Composer. Id. at 5-6.

Among other things, Tytell concluded (1) the documents were in Times New Roman, (2) the Times New Roman font was not available on any manual or electric typewriter of the day and therefore could not have been used on such a machine in 1972, (3) even the high-end IBM Selectric Composers did not have Times New Roman, and (4) the Selectric Composers could not replicate distinctive features of the memos, even though they could do proportional spacing. Id., pp. 4-6. Tytell’s conclusion is definitive and unassailable: the memos were fakes.

Joseph Newcomer, a pioneer in the science of computer typography, independently analyzed the documents with scrupulous precision, and concluded they were obviously done on a computer, which meant they were obviously fake. See Newcomer’s analysis here.

That the documents are fake is well beyond any reasonable doubt, and for many additional reasons. Their content has dozens of telling inaccuracies, some of which are recounted by Messrs. Johnson and Hinderaker here.

The most important revelation in the Thornburgh-Boccardi Report, however, is not merely that the documents are crude forgeries beyond any hope of redemption, but that Mary Mapes was advised the documents were fake before the story went to air. This has not received nearly the attention it deserves, for it casts the whole affair in a much more sinister light.

Mapes’s production team consulted with four document examiners. Two of them told her repeatedly before the story went to air that the documents were fakes, based on the proportionally spaced fonts and the superscript “th.” See Thornburgh-Boccardi Report regarding Emily Will pp. 84-85, 106-107; Linda James, pp. 85, 108. Before the broadcast, Emily Will told Mapes that if she used the documents in the story, “every document expert in the country will be after you with hundreds of questions.” Id. at 107.

Will and James both recommended Mapes consult Peter Tytell (yes, the same one), and James provided his phone number, but Mapes never did. Id. at 107-108. When Mapes’s associate producer Yvonne Miller relayed the opinion of Linda James that the documents were fake because of the superscript “th,” which could not have been made on a typewriter in 1972, Mapes’s reply was “Enough about the [expletive] ‘th’.” Id. at 108. All that was before they went to air!

Even worse, Mapes serially misrepresented these facts to her colleagues, superiors and witnesses in order to get the story to air on September 8, 2004, come hell or high water. She told them that the experts had authenticated the documents when they had actually told her they were fake. She claimed repeatedly in the run-up to the show that the documents had been authenticated by Marcel Matley, one of the four experts. Id. at 108, 111. In truth, Matley’s opinion related only to the signatures; he gave no opinion on the documents themselves. Id. at 86. Mapes told her colleagues and bosses (pp. 104, 108), and witnesses (Col. Strong, pp. 87-88) who voiced doubt or asked questions about the documents that they had been authenticated by multiple experts when they had not been authenticated by anyone, and had in fact been emphatically repudiated by Will and James.

Mapes disposed of the correct objections raised by Will and James by claiming they had deferred to Matley’s opinion. Id. at 108. But Matley never gave an opinion on authenticity of the documents to which Will, James or anyone could have deferred even had they had wanted to. Second, far from deferring to the nonexistent Matley opinion, Will and James escalated their urgent warnings to Mapes that the documents were forgeries. Id. at 107-108, 111. Mapes thus perpetrated an elaborate, multilayered and oft-repeated deception to get this story to air on September 8.

As for the content, the so-called fake but accurate defense, Mapes read at least some of the documents to Major General Hodges over the phone. While she claimed he confirmed their content, Hodges insisted otherwise to the panel. He explained to Mapes that both he and Lt. Col. Killian thought Bush was an “outstanding officer,” and that he had gone to Alabama with their permission. Id. at 102-103. After Maj. Gen. Hodges told Mapes the essence of her story was false, she hung up the phone and told everyone at CBS that Hodges had confirmed the content of the memos. Id. at 103-104. Compounding the core deception of the story, multiple sources had told Mapes both earlier and again in 2004 that Bush had volunteered to go to Vietnam, but did not have sufficient flight hours. Id. at 130.

Why the blizzard of lies and why the rush? Mapes claims the rush was to scoop the competition or be scooped herself, just a day in the life of an award-winning journalist, who, by the way, has won several awards. But that does not explain the lies.

Which brings us to a second stone that was not much turned over by the Thornburgh-Boccardi Report: the nature and extent of the coordination between Mapes and the Kerry campaign and the Democrat National Committee. The Report ultimately concluded there was no political motivation to the story and no meaningful coordination despite grossly improper contact with the Kerry campaign. This is an absurd hide-your-eyes whitewash.

CBS, and especially 60 Minutes, have a documented history of helping Democrats in presidential elections. It’s just what they do. Don Hewitt in his memoir bragged about helping Kennedy in the 1960 debate with Nixon, and Bill Clinton with the Gennifer Flowers problem in the 1992 post-Super Bowl 60 Minutes interview. Sharyl Attkisson’s Stonewalled shows CBS News suppressed outtakes in which Obama argued that Benghazi was not a terrorist attack — outtakes that would have devastated Obama’s and Candy Crowley’s claim at the second debate in 2012 that he had promptly recognized it as a terrorist attack. The political context for Rathergate was that the Swift Boat Vets were crushing John Kerry. The Democrats were desperate for any means of striking back and neutralizing the issue. Mapes’s Bush National Guard story was heaven-sent for this purpose, and they jumped on it.

Mapes called Joe Lockhart, a senior official in the Kerry Campaign on Saturday, September 4. Report, p. 27. She told the panel she first got permission to make the call from her superior, Josh Howard. But Howard says he emphatically disapproved the call as obviously improper. Id. at 26.

Mapes depicted the call as coming from Lockhart and as a two-minute nothing-burger to merely introduce her source, the obviously wound-too-tight Bill Burkett, who wanted to give advice on how to counter the Swift Boat Vets. Lockhart and his subordinate Chad Clanton told a very different story, that Mapes called them and told them about her story, that the documents had been authenticated, and that if Lockhart called Burkett, he might produce additional documents that would move the story forward. Id. at 27. Lockhart obliged and called Burkett on September 6.

That same day, September 6, Clinton operative Howard Wolfson left the Kerry Campaign, which he had only joined the day before, to join the DNC to direct their “Operation Fortunate Son” campaign attacking Bush’s National Guard service. The DNC then launched its “Operation Fortunate Son” advertising campaign on the very day CBS went to air with the story, harping on its themes that Bush had shirked his duty. See Kerry Enlisting Clinton Aides in Effort to Refocus Campaign; RNC press statement from 9/22/04 (http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1223897/posts). The Democrats had a press conference on September 9, brandished the documents, and called President Bush a liar.

So the timeline none dare call collusion is this:

9/4/04 Mapes calls Lockhart, tells him about the story, the documents and Burkett.

9/5/04 Howard Wolfson joins Kerry Campaign.

9/6/04 Lockhart calls Burkett at Mapes’ request.

9/6/04 Howard Wolfson leaves Kerry Campaign, goes to DNC to run “Fortunate Son” campaign attacking Bush’s Guard service based on the story.

9/8/04 60 Minutes Wednesday airs story.

9/8/04 DNC launces “Operation Fortunate Son” campaign.

9/9/04 DNC holds press conference, brandishes the fake memos and calls President Bush a liar.

To conclude there was no collusion or political motivation, one must credit Mapes’s denials. Given her many other proven deceptions in this matter, she does not deserve the benefit of any doubt.

Among the many preposterous elements of this matter is the suggestion by Mapes and Rather that I was a “Republican operative,” which they contrasted with their own disinterested quest for truth. To review, I was the guy at home in his boxer shorts posting an accurate comment about a news story. Mapes was the one coordinating an elaborate political lie with the Kerry campaign and the DNC.

Which brings us back to the movie. In the Soviet Union the two official newspapers were called Izvestia, or “News,” and Pravda, or “Truth.” They were mouthpieces through which the Communist tyrants deceived and manipulated the masses with a ceaseless torrent of lies. The Russians joked, “There is no news in Izvestia and no truth in Pravda.”

There is no pravda in Truth.