Peabody Award Honors Dan Rather, Mary Mapes As Excellent in Their Field
By Carol Sterritt
(Dedicated to my colleague, Jim Scanlon, who would have a Peabody himself if I could arrange it.)
When is a journalistic endeavor real journalism, and when is it not? For one thing, a report may be real journalism when it comes from a producer who receives an award as prestigious as the Peabody Award. On April 7th 2005, Ms. Mary Mapes, formerly of CBS News, together with Dan Rather, also formerly of CBS news, received the Peabody Award. This award, one of journalism's highest honors, was given to them for their exposure of the brutal conditions at Abu Gharib.
For Mapes, the award was bittersweet. In early April, when she picked up her phone and heard Rather's voice, she sputtered, "So now what have I done wrong?" But it was good news, not bad, that Rather was offering. In a sense, it was vindication for a brave journalist who may well have been driven from her chosen field simply for being unafraid of doing real reporting. (A task with which many mainstream journalists now remain unfamiliar.)
Last September, Mary Mapes, a producer for Sixty Minutes II of CBS News, had decided to film a show on George W Bush's service record as a National Guardsman. She had looked into this matter for some five long years. Naturally the White House was not too happy about her or anyone examining this affair. Way back in July of 1972 Lt. George W. Bush failed to take a required physical. By August, 1972, he was technically AWOL, although due to his father's high government position, he was let off the hook. He had not fulfilled his duty to the Texas Air National Guard. And there were also questions about the other military program that he had joined: The Alabama Air National Guard.
John Kerry, the candidate running against Bush in the ill-fated 2004 election, had annoyed the Bush administration whenever his campaign brought up the notion of Vietnam-era service. Although Kerry had not made a point of attacking Bush's spotty record, he did make his own exemplar tour of duty a centerpiece for the Democratic convention.
For that alone, he paid a steep price: enter a faction of strange and deviant characters, who claimed to have served with Kerry in Vietnam on the same river boat. These men, the "Swift Boat Veterans," came up with tales of utter nonsense: they had all but witnessed Kerry inflicting his own injuries or over-reacting to the "minor wounds" that he had received, they scoffed at his calling himself a war hero when he had bailed out of Vietnam after only being there four months! Almost hourly, The Swift Boat Veterans were paraded across mainstream media and all the right wing talk shows. So much so that by the time Kerry made his appearance on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show," Jon Stewart looked him in the eye and said, "Senator Kerry, you just never were in Vietnam at all, were you, Sir?" In response, the in-studio crowd howled with wild whoops of knowing laughter.
So it should have been a warning to Ms. Mapes that the Bush guy was a bit touchy about his military record. But five years is a long time to run with a project only to let the material go to waste. Then after Mapes had obtained a memo that purported to be a historic record of the paperwork from that era, documenting what went down in clear black and white, she decided that the time had come... She must have thought that airing the show on September 9th 2004 would once and for all get to the absolute bottom of a matter, in which there was no moral high ground for President Bush.
Perhaps her hopes for the program were even higher than that. Perhaps she even thought that this one program might spell the end of the Bush era. However, the only thing that her program ended up being the end of was her. Three other members of the Sixty Minutes II team were dismissed as well. Dan Rather would follow, although he was allowed to stay at CBS until his anniversary month of March 2005.
The right wing mainstream media had gone ballistic over that memo. They came up with ten talking points about the information that Mapes had released. Among these were their complaints that the show's material had not been properly vetted; they complained that the memo had superscripts and type fonts not possible to have originated from a typewriter in the 1970's. What they said could be refuted point by point. But Les Moonves, the head of CBS, caved before any true defense of Ms. Mapes program could be offered.
In her resignation statement, Mapes offered this sad lament: "Mr. Moonves' response to the review panel's report and the panel's assessment of the evidence it developed in its investigation combine not only to condemn me, but to put all investigative reporting in the CBS' tradition at risk."
What seems lost inside all of this is that if people who were familiar with Bush's military life in 1972 were still willing to bring forth charges against a man now occupying the highest civil and military position in the land, then it follows that the actual facts of the matter might well exist. George W Bush was indeed suspended from his military flight career for refusing to obey a direct order to take a required physical and for failure to perform to standards of the Texas Air National Guard.
Military records that should exist regarding this matter have been lost. One of Mapes' main sources for her program was Bill Burkett, a former Texas National Guard lieutenant colonel who has charged that Bush's Guard records were culled in 1997 to eliminate "anything there that will embarrass the [then] governor" (Dallas Morning News, 2/11/04).
It may be true that Burkett does not like Bush-but in terms of his value as a source there is only one thing that matters: is he telling the truth? Mainstream media would do well to realize that the man that Burkett is attacking is not someone known for telling much in the way of truth: the reasons leading up to our costly war in Iraq have been revealed to be untrue, the President's denial of his association, a long and fully established association with con man Kenneth Lay ("Kenny" allowed Bush to use corporate Enron planes all through the Presidential campaign of 2000), the presidential swagger in May 2003 when Bush announced that all fighting in Iraq was over, his current campaign to "improve and save" Social Security-all these lies add up and the mainstream media is too busy attending to Paris Hilton's latest adventure or whatever rather than further any efforts at critical investigative reporting regarding the White House.
These days, Mary Mapes has book offers and Larry King shows to attend to. However, wherever she goes she will be bashed. Be assured that in all likelihood the more visible of these bashers are on the payroll of the White House. For that has become the new definition of a respected White House press person: are they on payroll, or not? "All Lies, All The Time," and you and me and every last taxpayer is footing that bill.
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