Friday, November 11, 2005

# Posted 1:19 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

TWO VERSIONS OF TRUTH ON THE SAME PAGE OF THE WaPo: On the front page of Wednesday's "C" section, Howard Kurtz wrote about Mary Mapes, the CBS producer responsible for the fiasco involving fake documents about young Dubya's service in the National Guard. According to Kurtz, Mapes
Ladles out plenty of blame but largely defends what she still considers a fair piece of reporting, although an independent panel accused CBS of having "failed miserably" to authenticate the documents before rushing the story to air.
Now, if you follow Kurtz's story to its end on page C12, you will notice that there is a second, entirely separate discussion of Mapes' book by Paul Farhi, who writes that:
It's entirely possible that Mapes was wrong -- very wrong -- about Bush's military record. But that's still only theoretical...

The "independent" panel that CBS hired to look into the story (composed primarily of lawyers, not journalists, and co-chaired by a former Republican attorney general) cast plenty of doubt on the story and CBS's handling of it. But it never said the report was baseless, never accused Mapes or Rather of political bias or called the memos fraudulent.
Now back to Kurtz:
Linda Mason, a CBS News senior vice president, said Mapes was fired because "her basic reporting was faulty. She relied on documents that could not be authenticated -- you could never authenticate a Xeroxed copy. She led others who trusted her down the wrong road." ...

Three of CBS's own document experts say they had warned CBS they could not authenticate the memos. Mapes's source for the documents, former National Guardsman Bill Burkett, later admitted lying about who had given him the memos said to have been written by Bush's long-dead Guard commander.
Personally, I trust Kurtz's account more than Farhi's. Kurtz covered this story from the beginning and constantly provides first-rate coverage of the media. Plus, my own knowledge of the situation suggests that Kurtz is right. But some people will believe Farhi, because he is also a WaPo staff writer who covers the media.

The bottom line here is that journalists have a habit of presenting their own subjective, sometimes wild, interpretations as the unvarnished truth. It is precisely that habit that got Mary Mapes into so much trouble.
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