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Jewish World Review Oct. 4, 2004 / 19 Tishrei, 5765

John H. Fund

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The Producer: Meet Mary Mapes, the crusading journalist behind CBS's current troubles | SEATTLE — At a joint appearance over the weekend, the network news anchors began to circle the wagons in defense of the beleaguered Dan Rather. "There's a political jihad against Dan Rather and CBS," complained NBC's Tom Brokaw at a New York Public Library event Saturday. "It's a demagoguery unleashed on the Internet."

ABC's Peter Jennings then weighed in. "I think the attack on CBS is an attack on mainstream media, an attack on the so-called 'liberal media," he told the audience. Mr. Rather said CBS executives have asked him not to comment on the botched story involving fabricated memos about President Bush's Vietnam-era National Guard service.

The reason he can't comment is that last Tuesday former attorney general Dick Thornburgh and former Associated Press chief Louis Boccardi began their outside review of the "60 Minutes" foul-up. They began calling in CBS honchos for intense interrogations. New York's Daily News reports that among those summoned were CBS News President Andrew Hayward, Mr. Rather and Mary Mapes, the producer of the Rather segment on the memos.

Most viewers don't know that on TV newsmagazines producers like Ms. Mapes do most of the important reporting. The on-air correspondents normally just parachute into the story at the end. The "60 Minutes" National Guard segment was an exception. Mr. Rather has acknowledged that he was deeply invested in the story, and when he learned Ms. Mapes had gotten the documents from Bill Burkett, a controversial former National Guard lieutenant colonel, he asked Mr. Heyward to take charge. In an interview with the New York Times, Mr. Rather quoted himself as telling Mr. Hayward, "I have to ask you to oversee, in a hands-on way, the handling of the story." According to Mr. Rather, "He got it. He immediately agreed."

Because of the intense participation of Mr. Rather and Mr. Heyward in the story, many current and former CBS employees are anxious that the Thornburgh-Boccardi probe be as thorough as possible. "If we have a systemic problem better to handle it once and for all," one told me.

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Former employees of KIRO, the CBS affiliate in Seattle where Ms. Mapes got her start in the 1980s, agree. Some told me that the seeds of CBS's current troubles may have been planted more than 15 years ago when Ms. Mapes was a hard-charging producer at KIRO. Before she left Seattle to become a producer at Mr. Rather's "CBS Evening News," Ms. Mapes produced a sensational report on a killing of a drug suspect by police that rested on the shoulders of an unreliable source whose story collapsed under cross-examination. Sound familiar?

Former colleagues of Ms. Mapes agree that she was a passionate practitioner of advocacy journalism. "She went into journalism to change society," says former KIRO anchorwoman Susan Hutchison. "She always was very, very cause-oriented." Lou Guzzo, a former KIRO news commentator who served as counselor to the late Gov. Dixy Lee Ray, a Democrat, says advocates in journalism are fine, "but if you're as liberal and activist as Mary and work on the news rather than the opinion side, it creates problems."

John Carlson, another news commentator at KIRO from 1986 to 1993 and now a conservative talk show host, recalls frequently arguing with Ms. Mapes after going off air. "The joke was that I'd have to debate twice at KIRO," he recalls, "once on the set and then shortly afterward with Mary."

Mr. Carlson vividly recalls how Ms. Mapes's social advocacy landed her in trouble in a major story. In the mid- and late 1980s, the Seattle police undertook a series of raids on well-known crack houses. Many dealers were minorities, and there were allegations that the police were being racially selective in the use of force.

In the winter of 1987, officers announced themselves and knocked on the door of a known Seattle drug den. They then heard some noise and forced themselves in when no one answered the door. A low-level drug dealer named Erdman Bascomb stood up with a dark, shiny object in his hand. An officer fired, Bascomb fell, and officers pounced on the "weapon": a black TV remote control. Bascomb died.

The Bascomb shooting angered many people in Seattle, and officials quickly organized an inquest. Then KIRO aired an incendiary story titled "A Shot in the Dark," in which a previously unknown witness named Wardell Fincher accused the cops involved in the raid of lying. He said he saw officers arrive at the house, burst in with no warning and shoot Bascomb, who might not have even known the intruders were cops. The story shifted to possible criminal wrongdoing by the police. Mr. Fincher was summoned to the inquest, and previous witnesses recalled. The reporter for the sensational segment was Mark Wrolstad, now a reporter with the Dallas Morning News. The producer was his wife, Mary Mapes.

Fortunately for the cops, Mr. Fincher wasn't the only one at the scene of the raid that night. A reporter for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Mike Barber, was tagging along with officers. Mr. Barber observed the officers arriving at the house, knocking, announcing themselves and then entering. He was there when the shooting happened and when the ambulances were summoned. At that point, a man "reeking of alcohol" walked out of some nearby bushes and approached him. He wanted to know what had just happened. That was Wardell Fincher. But Mr. Fincher wasn't thoroughly checked out, so all this came out after the story aired. The police were eventually cleared but it took years and an unsuccessful civil-rights lawsuit by the Bascomb family to undo the damage.

By that time, Ms. Mapes had left Seattle, and no one I talked with who worked at KIRO at the time can recall her being disciplined in any way for her mistake. Instead, in 1989 she was fast-tracked to the "CBS Evening News" and later became Mr. Rather's hand-picked producer on "60 Minutes." "Maybe the National Guard mess would never have happened if she had been handled properly back then," says one former KIRO reporter who still admires her work ethic and ability to break stories.

Ms. Mapes isn't talking to any other journalists, but Mr. Carlson said she called him last month after he defended her on his talk show; earlier, her father had phoned the show and said his daughter's liberal views "embarrassed" him. Mr. Carlson says that while most of his discussion with her was off the record, she allowed that "there's more to come" about Mr. Bush's military record because "it's an important story."

Mr. Carlson says he wishes his former colleague would let the story go. She clearly cared too much about "her" story of George W. Bush slacking in the National Guard. After it aired, CBS proudly proclaimed she had been working on it for five years. Mr. Rather has acknowledged that Mr. Burkett did not approach CBS News with the memos. Rather, Ms. Mapes approached him about whether he could find documents challenging Mr. Bush's military service. He quickly obliged. Ms. Mapes clearly wanted the memos to be real, and she and the CBS executives overseeing it rushed the story on air only four days after receiving all the documents — despite flashing red-lights from the document examiners they consulted.

Mr. Carlson says that among its other sins, CBS simply didn't realize that most people don't care if Mr. Bush missed a physical while the Vietnam War was winding down more than 30 years ago. As one prominent journalist recently put it: "In the end, what difference does it make what one candidate or the other did or didn't do during the Vietnam War? In some ways, that war is as distant as the Napoleonic campaigns." The man who spoke those words — at a time when John Kerry was under attack by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth — was Dan Rather.

To question CBS over how it rushed its story on air is not to engage in a "political jihad," as Mr. Brokaw claims. It's to ask legitimate questions about why Mr. Rather and his CBS colleagues felt differently when it came to the National Guard memos.

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JWR contributor John H. Fund is author, most recently, of "Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Our Democracy". (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.)

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09/23/04: Ballots or Briefs? In election 2004, the man with the most lawyers may win
09/13/04: I'd Rather Be Blogging: CBS stonewalls as "guys in pajamas" uncover a fraud
08/30/04: Tryout Time: The 2008 presidential campaign gets under way in New York.
08/23/04: Why we're refighting Vietnam: Blame McCain-Feingold
08/18/04: Silence of the Lamb: C-SPAN cancels 'Booknotes'
08/16/04: Louisiana North: Why New Jersey is a pit of corruption
08/02/04: Patriotic liberalism
07/28/04: Caught in the Web: How Democrats mobilized online and other campaign tales
06/28/04: Bad ACTors: If Dems want honest elections, why did a Soros-backed group hire criminals to get out the vote?
06/21/04: This Time, Get It Right: Instead of "lawyering up," both parties should be working to prevent another Florida
06/14/04: Don't Pardon Their French: "Good government" Californians embrace the system that produced David Duke
06/07/04: Freedom's Team: How Reagan, Thatcher and John Paul II won the Cold War
05/25/04: Don't Touch That Dial? Radio hosts worry about the FCC's indecency regulations. What about political speech?
05/18/04: Anger Management: Dems start to realize that a campaign of hate won't beat President Bush
05/11/04: Will Sen. Kennedy turn out to be a political liability for John Kerry?
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04/27/04: Arlen Specter's personality helps make him vulnerable in today's primary
04/20/04: Arnold Schwarzenegger thinks making laws should be a part-time job. He's right
03/23/04: Bragging of foreign support doesn't win many votes in America
03/16/04: The Vanishing Center: In both political parties, the defense of moderation is no virtue
03/09/04: A JFK-NBC Ticket? If Kerry wants to make things interesting, he'll consider Tom Brokaw for veep
03/02/04: As Virginia mulls a tax hike, all Americans should guard their wallets
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02/10/04: Republican Rot: Is Congress's GOP majority becoming as corrupt as the Democrats were?
02/03/04: Moore Trouble: Alabama's former chief justice may challenge Bush for the Religious Right vote
01/13/04: Rage of a Relic: Paul O'Neill is angry that the world has passed him by
01/06/04: Unintended Consequence: How Terry McAuliffe and James Carville created Howard Dean
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06/27/03: The California jurist who may replace Justice O'Connor
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05/27/03: Nerd Nirvana: Students are to the right of the faculty even at the U of Chicago
05/16/03: GOPers gain in the land of Humphrey and Mondale
04/28/03: With the war won, it's time for Bush to master the Senate
04/04/03: Is "diversity" on campus even a goal worth pursuing?
03/05/03: Sunday morning with the BBC
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02/18/03: Growing number of black officials breaking ranks by calling for a more honest approach to race relations
01/31/03: Half and Half: Republicans have achieved parity among American voters
11/11/02: Sobering Thoughts: The GOP's cup runneth over? No, it's half empty
10/31/02: Blue Gray: California's governor answers a Nobel Prize winner with obscenities
10/14/02: Bad Hair Day: Did Montana Dems exploit antigay prejudice?
10/11/02: The kill-everything senate
09/30/02: Schroeder did what it took to win--but at what cost to Germany?
08/22/02: Buh-Bye Bob, So Long Cynthia : No amount of shouting could've saved Barr or McKinney
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07/17/02: Not Just an Average Joe: A black GOPer may give Rep. Eliot Engel a run for his money
07/15/02: The McCain Mutiny-II
07/01/02: Opening the Schoolhouse Door: The politicians can't stop school choice now
06/20/02: The Body' Bows Out --- American politics will be duller without Jesse Ventura
06/06/02: It's time for President Bush to stand up to California's senators
05/16/02: A Court Intrigue: Procedural funny business in a racial-preference case
05/14/02: Thin moral ice: New revelations from a skater's Stasi files recall an oppressive era
05/09/02: Newark, Zimbabwe!?
05/02/02: Will Terror Leave Us No Choice? Teachers unions try to use Sept. 11 as an excuse for bad schools
04/23/02: The New Nixon? Al Gore plots his comeback
04/16/02: 'I, Uh, I Have No Comment': A union plays dirty in opposing an antitax initiative
03/31/02: Don't Just Do Something, Stand There!: Filibusters can help the Senate GOP get things done
03/14/02: Red-Light District: It's time to draw the line on gerrymandering
02/21/02: Slippery Slope: Can Dick Riordan beat California's Democratic governor?
02/14/02: Reform School: The Shays-Meehan incumbency protection act
02/07/02: Arizona Highway Robbery: Politicians make a grab for campaign cash
01/31/02: Disfranchise Lassie: Even dogs can register to vote. We need election reform with teeth
01/17/02: Dr. King's Greedy Relations: Cashing in on a national hero's legacy
01/10/02: Oil of Vitriol
01/04/02: The little engine that couldn't--and the senators who don't want it to
12/24/01: E-mail and low-cost computers could be conduits for a learning revolution
12/13/01: How Gore could have really won
12/07/01: Let our students keep their cell phones
12/04/01: Why the White House gave the RNC chairman the boot
11/12/01: A Winsome Politician: She won an election in a majority-black district--and she's a Republican
11/01/01: Bush Avoids Politics at His Peril
10/30/01: Cocked Pit: Armed pilots would mean polite skies
10/24/01: Chicken Pox: Hardly anyone has anthrax, but almost everyone has anthrax anxiety
10/11/01: Will Rush Hear Again? New technology may make it possible
10/04/01: Three Kinds of pols
08/24/01: Lauch Out: Who'll replace Jesse Helms?
08/08/01: Tome Alone: Clinton's book will probably end up on the remainder table
08/03/01: Of grubbing and grabbing: Corporation$ and local government$ perfect "public use"
07/31/01: Affairs of State: The Condit case isn't just about adultery. It's about public trust and national security
07/14/01: The First Amendment survives, and everyone has someone to blame for the failure of campaign reform
07/12/01: He's Still Bread: Despite what you've heard, Gary Condit isn't toast --- yet
07/12/01: Passing Lane: Left-wing attacks help boost John Stossel's and Brit Hume's audiences
06/25/01: Man vs. Machine: New Jersey's GOP establishment is doing everything it can to stop Bret Schundler
06/15/01: A Schundler Surprise? Don't count out "the Jack Kemp of New Jersey"
06/06/01: Memo to conservatives: Ignore McCain and maybe he'll go away
05/29/01: Integrity in Politics? Hardly. Jim Jeffords is no Wayne Morse
05/22/01: Davis' answer to California's energy crisis? Hire a couple of Clinton-Gore hatchet men
05/07/01: Prematurely declaring a winner wasn't the networks' worst sin in Florida
04/23/01: How to fix the electoral process --- REALLY!
04/11/01: A conservative hero may mount a California comeback
03/30/01: Can the GOP capture the nation's most closely balanced district?
03/09/01: Terminated
03/06/01: Leave well enough alone
02/22/01: Forgetting our heroes
02/15/01: In 1978 Clinton got a close look at the dangers of selling forgiveness
02/12/01: Clinton owes the country an explanation --- and an appology
02/06/01: How Ronald Reagan changed America
01/16/01: Why block Ashcroft? To demoralize the GOP's most loyal voters
01/15/01: Remembering John Schmitz, a cheerful extremist
12/29/00: Why are all Dems libs pickin' on me?
Dubya's 48% mandate is different than Ford's
12/13/00: Gore would have lost any recount that passed constitutional muster
11/13/00: The People Have Spoken: Will Gore listen?
10/25/00: She's really a Dodger
09/28/00: Locking up domestic oil?
09/25/00: Hillary gives new meaning to a "woman with a past"
09/21/00: Ignore the Polls. The Campaign Isn't Over Yet

©2001, John H. Fund