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CBS investigation, President Bush, Mary Mapes, For The Record, Texas Air National Guard
Published on January 16, 2005 By joeKnowledge In Current Events

SOURCE: Yahoo News

How CBS' Big Story Fell Apart

Sun Jan 16, 7:55 AM ET - By James Rainey and Scott Gold Times Staff Writers

Dan Rather was on the run, chasing big stories from New York to Florida to Texas and back to CBS headquarters in Manhattan. In less than a week: The Republican National Convention. A deadly hurricane. An interview for a blockbuster CBS investigation. Former President Clinton (news - web sites)'s open-heart surgery.

Exhausted and stretched to the limit, the veteran anchorman didn't find time that week to learn much about a news source named Lt. Col. Bill Burkett, he would later explain.

Rather, 73, recalled somewhat vaguely that he had heard from his star producer that Burkett was a "straight-talking West Texan" with a reputation as a "truth teller." Had he turned to Google, though, the CBS anchorman would have found stories painting Burkett as something quite different: a highly controversial and disgruntled retired military man who had led the media astray before.

But Rather relied on the research of that producer, Mary Mapes, as both put their trust in Burkett. That fateful convergence helped produce a terribly flawed report that said President Bush (news - web sites) shirked his military duty, a story that would backfire and cost Mapes and three others at CBS their jobs, while tarnishing Rather's storied career.

The segment, titled "For the Record," had another ironic consequence: It aided President Bush. The roar of condemnation aroused by CBS' use of unverified documents drowned out other news accounts that exposed Bush's spotty service as a young pilot.

The independent panel that reviewed production of the story for CBS released a report last week hammering the network and particularly Mapes. It said that carelessness and "myopic zeal" had tainted the integrity of what was once considered the nation's top broadcast news division.

How did it happen?

In a series of interviews and in the 224 pages of the independent panel's report, a portrait emerges of what is an inherently messy business — a television news operation "crashing" to quickly land a big story. The description of breathless news- hounds on the hunt might have been drawn from any of the nation's big newsrooms, were it not for a series of troubling patterns that ultimately crippled the CBS production, including: a glaring inattention to alternative points of view; the pronounced detachment of top news managers; and, especially, an extreme reliance on just one trusted individual to get the story right.

A Trusted Producer

By the time CBS aired its account on Sept. 8 of Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard, Mary Mapes had established herself as a one of the top producers at CBS News.

Raised on a strawberry farm in rural western Washington, she had begun working in television in Seattle without having finished her communications and political science studies at the University of Washington.

Like other front-line producers, Mapes thrived by perfecting myriad skills — buttonholing sources for information, conducting interviews, writing scripts and assembling graphics and videotape.

After joining CBS, she traveled widely in pursuit of stories. She narrowly avoided jail time in 1999, when she declined a judge's order to release unbroadcast portions...

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