Mapesgate

Before you judge former CBS-TV producer Mary Mapes, take a walk in her shoes

Reviewing Mary Mapes' new book, Truth and Duty, in the November 2 National Review, Byron York opens with a description of the 60 Minutes II story that got her fired from CBS last year. That story said CBS had new documents shedding light on an old story--that George W. Bush had spent the Vietnam War years in a playboy unit of the National Guard and skipped out when he got bored.

"CBS aired the documents in a 60 Minutes II report on September 8, 2004, and all hell broke loose," York writes in his review. "Within hours, the papers were exposed as likely fakes, and news-division executives found themselves desperately looking for anything to support the story."

I'm an anti-Bush guy, and I know Mary Mapes a little. She's a neighbor. But I hope you'll stick with me even if you're at the other end of the spectrum. Listen, some of my favorite neighbors are pro-Bush, and they're surprisingly decent people.

Bottom line on Mary Mapes' book about the Bush National Guard documents: She says they're not fake.
Bottom line on Mary Mapes' book about the Bush National Guard documents: She says they're not fake.

One of many intriguing points in Mapes' book--a thing I shouldn't have had to be reminded of--is that the documents she and Dan Rather based their story on were never exposed as fakes. In her book due out this week from St. Martin's Press, Mapes insists that the documents are authentic.

The people who made the most adamant accusations at the time were anonymous amateurs on the Internet, not known experts. Somehow all of a sudden everybody and his blog was an expert on 40-year-old typewriters and proportional spacing.

In the book Mapes presents expert opinion and evidence that the accusation--all the stuff about typewriters, superscripts, proportional spacing and typefaces--was just wrong. She says the people who presented those arguments didn't know what they were talking about.

After dealing with the typeface issues, Mapes presents contextual evidence to show that the documents make an uncannily smooth factual mesh with other documents of known provenance. Not the sort of thing one would expect from fakes.

Another telling point to recall is that not even the high tribunal and commission set up by CBS to explore the issue was able to corroborate the accusations of fakery. For all the money CBS spent on its commission, not to mention various private detectives--and for the amount of public bloodletting the network justified on the basis of the commission's findings--you have to think they would have found a way to call those documents fake if they could have.

That was the core accusation against Mapes, Dan Rather's producer for that story: that she bought off on fake documents and fooled her superiors. If CBS could have proved the documents were fake, then all the blame would have been on Mapes and much less of it on CBS.

Certainly on the technical side of this I am not a good arbiter. And I'm not entirely neutral on Mapes herself. But I can say this much for her book: Anybody with an honest intellectual curiosity about this story will have to read the book or find some other way to confront the arguments in it. Mapes' evidence supporting the authenticity of the Bush Guard documents is compelling enough to put the ball squarely back in the court of her accusers. The case for forgery is dead in the road until it finds a way around this book.

Like I say, she's a neighbor. I don't know her well. Her husband works for a company I call the Realm of Daily Darkness, otherwise known as The Dallas Morning News. There are indications he himself may not be evil. They walk their dogs in a mile-long park, a median strip, really, in an old part of inner-city Dallas that we all tell each other is lovely and charming. I've never seen him abuse his pets.

I have no idea how our neighborhood adds up politically, red-blue-wise. From the turn of the century through the '50s, the street Mapes and her husband live on was a mainly Jewish gold coast. My street, just a block away, was sort of a middle-class Gentile chrome coast. The whole area was dope and whorehouse hell-to-pay by the early '70s.

For a while, when the houses first were being renovated by "urban pioneers" (really bad carpenters), I think our area had sort of an ex-hippie liberal cast to it, like a pink aura. Later, especially on her street where the houses are grand old mansions, the values shot way up. The 'hood started attracting people with real money--the kind who actually can afford to replace tile roofs instead of doing the bucket brigade in the hallway thing.

So now we have all flavors--very strongly pro-Bush people, a few old hippies and many young couples with kids whose political persuasion is either very center-line or just totally unformed, depending on which day I talk with them while we walk our dogs.

We all walk our dogs. That's how I got to know Mary Mapes and her husband, Mark Wrolstad. Her mother died. She inherited a sweet old Labrador retriever. My 140-pound Weimaraner didn't like her Lab. That kind of thing.

Even though our acquaintance was very slight, it was strange to have even a passing familiarity with the human being at the center of "Rathergate." The first thing was that she and her husband disappeared from dog-walking. I was accustomed to seeing them, chatting with her, keeping an eye on the Morning News guy for any sign of pet abuse. But they evaporated.

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