In a television interview broadcast today, CBS News producer Mary Mapes insists her controversial “60 Minutes II” story on President Bush’s National Guard service was “true” and that “no one has proved” documents discredited by Internet weblogs were not authentic.
Mapes, fired after an independent panel found her reporting “faulty,” nevertheless maintains to ABC News correspondent Brian Ross she did nothing wrong.
“I don’t think I committed bad journalism. I really don’t,” she says in the interview broadcast on “Good Morning America.”
As WorldNetDaily reported, CBS News stood by its claims in the face of widespread accusations that early 1970s documents used on a Sept. 8, 2004, “60 Minutes II” segment to discredit Bush were forgeries, created with a modern word-processing program.
Among the assertions the news program derived from the documents – four memos by Bush’s late squadron commander Col. Jerry Killian – were that the commander was pressed to “sugar coat” a performance evaluation for Bush and that the future president did not follow an order to report for a physical.
Mapes tells ABC she believes the panel’s findings were used by CBS President Les Moonves as a pretext to remove Dan Rather as anchor of the “CBS Evening News.”
“Les Moonves viewed the news department as being kind of an uppity group of folks who thought they worked in news rather than television news,” she told Ross. “And he wanted them to work in television.”
After defending the story for 11 days amid widespread criticism, Rather finally relented and issued a statement saying he no longer would back the authenticity the documents.
“We made a mistake in judgment, and for that I am sorry,” he said. “It was an error that was made, however, in good faith and in the spirit of trying to carry on a CBS News tradition of investigative reporting without fear or favoritism.”
But the independent report said: “Rather informed the Panel that he still believes the content of the documents is true because ‘the facts are right on the money,’ and that no one had provided persuasive evidence that the documents were not authentic.”
In January, Rather responded to the network’s independent-panel report with “sadness and concern” for the four colleagues who lost their jobs, including Mapes, but offered no apology for his part in the story.
Mapes tells ABC News she is continuing to investigate the source of the controversial documents. But she insists she had no journalistic obligation to prove their authenticity before the “60 Minutes II” report.
“I don’t think that’s the standard,” she says.
Mapes does regret, however, making a phone call to a member of Sen. John Kerry’s presidential campaign staff prior to the broadcast.
“I wish to God I hadn’t done it, because I think it was so wildly misinterpreted,” she says.
She claims to have no political motives in doing the piece, explaining she made the call only to gain favor with the source who gave her the documents.
“I did not have it in for George Bush,” Mapes says.
She criticizes reporters for focusing on her story.
“I think the media’s had more fun beating itself up in the last five years than it has asking hard questions of the administration or government officials, and I think that’s wrong,” she tells ABC.
Mapes claims no responsibility for the aftermath of the independent panel’s investigation.
“If you’re talking about an investigation that basically gutted a news organization, and turned people one against another and made people afraid of each other, and really scooted the country’s most experienced anchor out of his anchor chair, and now has the evening news casting about for some kind of format that will be zippy and new, I didn’t do that. I had absolutely nothing to do with any of that,” she says.
But CBS News concluded, in a statement, that Mapes caused damage.
“Her disregard for journalistic standards ? and for her colleagues ? comes through loud and clear in her interviews and in the book that attempts to rewrite the history of this complex and sad affair,” the statement said. It also pinpointed Mapes’ notion that a news organization has no obligation “to authenticate such important source material” as only one of the “troubling and erroneous statements in her account.”
Mapes wrote a newly released book on the CBS News controversy, “Truth and Duty: The Press, the President, and the Privilege of Power.”