Mea didn't do it
It's a stereotype, I know!
How to be wrong, but not really
11-Nov-05. Two journalists who have gotten themselves into hot water recently have been all over the airways promoting themselves and their books, present or future. It's not a pretty sight.
There is always another side to any issue, but Judith Miller, formerly of the New York Times, and Mary Mapes, formerly a producer for CBS News, do themselves no favors by the way they are presenting themselves in what are clearly book promotions and rehabilitation campaigns. Neither of them seems capable of admitting that they just didn't do their job very well.
Judy Miller became a cause célèbre when she went to jail to protect her source, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, rather than testify before the grand jury looking into the leak of Valerie Plame Wilson's identity as a CIA operative. She spent 85 days in jail before she decided that Scooter really, really, meant it when he gave her a waiver to testify.
Miller and the New York Times have parted company after two weeks of "negotiations" and several letters (read "denials" and "rebuttals") between Miller and Times editors and Maureen Dowd, a columnist. I surmise that the Times wishes Miller had demonstrated as much thoroughness and precision in her reporting as she did in her correspondence.
Then today, Miller submitted to an interview on NPR in which she was defensive and weaselly in her answers. Take these exchanges, for example:
- NPR: The New York Times has an editor's note that itself says that reporting [on WMD] was not rigorous and overly credulous.
- Miller: What are editors for? You know, I disagree with certain conclusions of the editor's note. I think the editors who were in charge of the WMD reporting and of the other prewar intelligence had left the paper by the time that editor's note appeared. It was the new management that came in and made a determination, on the basis of what I don't know, that there was insufficient vetting and editing of these stories.
- NPR: Are you disgreeing with the NYT that your reporting was inadequate?
- Miller: Yes, yes, yes I am....
- . . .
- NPR: In your reporting of it [the Valerie Plame leak], you agreed to identify Lewis Libby as 'a former Hill staffer'—
- Miller: No I did not. I agreed to listen to the information in that way, and that's all.
- NPR: How do you mean, for the average person, what does that mean 'listen to it in that way'?
- Miller: What it means is, that I agreed to listen to Mr Libby's information on the basis of his attribution as a former Hill staffer. It is very common in Washington, to hear information on the basis of one attribution, and then to go back to that source — if you're going to use that information — and say, 'You know, this attribution really won't fly. Let's come up with something that more acccurately reflects your job and what you do.' And that's done every—
- NPR: Are you saying you do that frequently and make an agreement to hear information under one—
- Miller: No, I did not say 'I do it', I said 'it is often done in Washington', especially in the national security area
- NPR: But it does suggest a, a coziness—
- Miller: I'm not—
- NPR: with sources—
- Miller: Anyway I'm not going to argue with you about this. I never agreed to identify Mr Libby, in print, in that way, in one of my stories.
- NPR: Just one last question, why do you think that the people who are angry with you, including some of your quite well-known colleagues, are so angry with you? Maureen Dowd, who is a Times op-ed columnist [unintelligible], she wrote that your going to jail was in part 'a career rehabilitation project' designed to get people's attention off your reporting on weapons of mass destruction.
- Miller: Anyone who asserts that knows nothing about jail, nothing about me. It was insulting, and it was painful, and it was untrue.
Mary Mapes was the producer of the CBS 60 Minutes II story, reported by Dan Rather, that George W Bush had indeed pulled strings to serve in the Texas Air National Guard to avoid the possibility of being sent to Vietnam during the Vietnam War. The story had been around for a long time — what made this report unique was that it purported to have "smoking gun" documents proving the case.
Immediately after the story aired, there was an assault on the credibility of the documents, and after stonewalling for a period, Dan Rather was forced to admit that there were questions about documents, although he continued to insist that the gist of the story was true. Eventually, CBS investigated and concluded that it had committed poor journalism in rushing the story to air two weeks before the election without completely validating the documents that were the basis of the whole story. Eventually Rather "retired" from his anchorship at CBS News, and CBS endured a spate of smug reporting by other news organizations about CBS's lapse.
Anyway, Mapes is now out peddling her story and insisting that while someone may have been lax, it certainly wasn't her.
Earlier today Mapes participated in a Washington Post online chat. Consider the following exchanges.
- Houston, Tex.: Who do you suppose actually forged this fake document?
- Mary Mapes: You are wrong to believe that the documents have been determined to be forged. That has not happened. I personally believe the documents are not false.
- Bentonville, Va.: What was the official reason for your firing from CBS? Do you think you have grounds for a wrongful termination suit if they can't prove the documents were false? Or is the issue that there were enough reasons to doubt them that the story should have been pulled postponed.
- Mary Mapes: I was fired for airing a story that could not definitively be proved false but made CBS's public relations relations department cringe. I guess that was the reason. I am not a lawyer and don't know the ins and outs of a lawsuit. Sometimes in life, you just get hot coffee spilled on you at a restaurant, clean up and walk out rather than sue. I want to get on with my life.
- Fort Walton Beach, Fl.: Can you please address the issue posed by the bloggers concerning the National Guard documents? That is the typeface, fonts, etc., that didn't even exist in the early 70s, and are in fact an exact duplication of that produced using Microsoft Word.
- Mary Mapes: Proportional spacing was developed in the 1940s and fine tuned in the 50s. The Texas National Guard had many machines capable of it in 1972. Superscripts were available. There is no doubt about this in research books or evidence.
- There wasn't time or interest in reaching a reasoned conclusion in he overheated political atmosphere in 2004.
- Houston, Tex.: After watching Ms. Mapes with Bill O'Reilly last night, I concluded she has no judgment and no concept of reality. The only remaining question is how many other fraudulent reports did she, Dan Rather and CBS put on the air.
- Mary Mapes: I can't wait to watch you on O'Reilly.
- Great Falls, Va.: If as you put it, there are mountains of data to back up your claims, then why isn't it being played out by all other news sources? Why is it that your the only one that keeps coming back to take a bite at this apple when all others have moved on?
- Mary Mapes: I think my rather sad public fate has persuaded others to look at other stories. I don't blame them. It is also a complicated annoying story that many people are afraid to discuss on the record.
- Bowie, Md.: Ms. Mapes, based on your comments and your demeanor as evidenced by the tone of your responses, I am much less confident of the content that I see on news programming.
- Mary Mapes: I guess I don't like your tone either.
- Wilmington, Del.: You seem defensive, and you may have a right to be, but is there anything about the story that you regret, things that now, with the benefit of hindsight, you would do differently?
- Mary Mapes: If I were worried about the health of my career, I would have done an interview with Britney Spears instead of the Bush story, I would have aird a story on overweight pets instead of Abu Ghraib. I think hard-hitting journalism is one of the most precious gifts our founding fathers gave this country and I didn't want to let them... or our viewers down.
- Washington, D.C.: When you were a "journalist" with CBS, you and Dan Rather claimed that you were pursuing a story and had no personal axe to grind with President Bush, in response to critics that said you were merely a stereotypical liberal activist masquerading as a journalist. But it seems pretty clear from your book that you do, in fact, loath Republicans in general and conservatives in particular. Weren't the critics right?
- Mary Mapes: My mother was a lifelong Republican who died while planning to vote for George W. Bush. I would give the world to have had a chance to drive her to the polls. I have chosen to live in Texas, a deep red state for the past 15 years. I have friends and family members who are conservatives. I have voted for Republicans and Democrats. I am an American who likes talking politics and people of all political stripes. I don't know what you're talking about or what you're so mad about.