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Fired producer takes aim at CBS

Mary Mapes' new book says she was made a scapegoat after an '04 report on the president.

November 01, 2005|Matea Gold | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — The former CBS News producer fired for her role in a controversial story questioning President Bush's Texas Air National Guard service blames network executives for flaws in the September 2004 segment and accuses CBS of mishandling the resulting firestorm. Dan Rather, who delivered the report on the now-defunct "60 Minutes II," left the anchor chair in the wake of the uproar.

In her new book, "Truth and Duty: The Press, the President and the Privilege of Power," Mary Mapes writes that CBS and its parent company, Viacom, made her a scapegoat to avoid further antagonizing the administration, according to an excerpt in December's Vanity Fair.

In response, CBS and Viacom challenged her descriptions of events and dismissed the notion that politics or finances played a role in her dismissal.

On Monday, CBS released a statement saying "Mapes' actions damaged CBS News as an organization and brought pain to many colleagues with whom she worked. As always, revisionist history must be tested against the facts."

Mapes was fired in January after an independent panel concluded that she and others did "virtually nothing" to verify the authenticity of the documents on which they based the Bush story. Three news executives were also forced to resign.

In the excerpt of her book, available Nov. 8, Mapes comes across as deeply wounded. She writes that she went to great lengths to confirm the veracity of the memos, purportedly written by Bush's commander in the early '70s, but that she told CBS the documents couldn't be 100% authenticated because they were copies -- a claim the network disputes. Once conservative websites began attacking the memos as fake, she said, CBS bungled the response and then bowed to political pressure.

"People who'd had long and successful careers at CBS, whose work had never before been questioned or criticized, were suddenly grilled as though they were strangers under investigation for committing unspeakable crimes," she writes.

Meanwhile, longtime CBS newsman Mike Wallace said Monday that he thinks Rather should have left when Mapes and the others were forced out.

"It seems to me that Dan should have said, 'If they go, I go,' " Wallace told NBC's Katie Couric on "Today." "If the people on whom he depended are fired, lose their jobs -- he was the guy on camera. Absolutely he should have resigned."

Rather, traveling on assignment for "60 Minutes," could not be reached for comment.

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