Friday, October 07, 2005

Does CBS Want To Stand By Thoroughly Refuted Story?

Mary Mapes, the former star producer at CBS News, has a book due out in November. She reported on the Abu Ghraib story one month after the Army began investigating but before any other major news sources were running it. She worked with Dan Rather to produce a piece about W.'s service in the Texas National Guard during Vietnam that led to Rather's early departure.

The piece aired on 60 Minutes (or 60 Min II?) just a few weeks before the election last year and immediately cause a controversy. CBS contended that Bush skipped out of the National Guard but used his connections to silence any ramifications.

As it turns out, the sole source of the story was a partisan operative without any determinable connection to who would have made the National Guard's decisions. Bloggers with copies of the documents were the ones who began questioning the story, leading other news sources to do their own investigations. It was a great development for bloggers, especially because Rather refused to question or explain his sources and methods.

Ultimately, Mary Mapes and Dan Rather were embarrassed. The burden of proof is on them to show the records/evidence were real and in nobody's imagination did they meet that burden of proof. It's widely believed that CBS's integrity took a big hit from the developments of that story.

Now Mary Mapes has a book deal and is apparently trying to revisit the issue, still believing the documents were real. There's a minor story in the fact that Amazon released excerpts from the book before the publisher wanted to, but the major story is that Mary Mapes hasn't come to the same conclusion as the rest of America. Here are excerpts from her books courtesy of Howard Kurtz at the Washington Post (taken from Editor and Publisher):

-- "And right now, on the Internet, it appeared everything was falling apart. I had a real physical reaction as I read the angry online accounts. It was something between a panic attack, a heart attack, and a nervous breakdown. My palms were sweaty; I gulped and tried to breathe. . . . The little girl in me wanted to crouch and hide behind the door and cry my eyes out."

--"Faxing changes a document in so many ways, large and small, that analyzing a memo that had been faxed -- -in some cases not once, but twice -- -was virtually impossible. The faxing destroyed the subtle arcs and lines in the letters. The characters bled into each other. The details of how the typed characters failed to line up perfectly inside each word were lost."

--"To these people, there was no such thing as unbiased mainstream reporting, certainly not when it came to criticism of the president, no matter how tepid. To them, there was Fox News and everything else -- and everything else was liberal and unfair."

UPDATE from Radar: Not to beat a dead horse here, but CBS's coverage of the whole National Guard memos was a classic case of media bias. Without retelling the whole story, a 5th grader in English class wouldn't have believed the sources that Dan and Mary got. However, they were so sure that they already knew Bush had skipped out on guard duty, so the "evidence" was very easy for them to believe.

Also, Mary Mapes talks about "peripheral spacing" in the first chapter of her book. For thos of you who don't know what "peripheral spacing" is, don't fret - there isn't such thing. What Mary meant to write was "proportional spacing" that thing when letters only take up as much horizontal space as they need, instead of each letter having the same amount of space (computers can do this, only one typwriter in the 70's could). The fact that Mary still hasn't grasped this important debunking fact about the documents a year later exemplifies why she and Dan will forever be know for their new journalistic standard - "fake but accurate."

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