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CBS Rathergate producer Mary Mapes wins first Duranty-Blair Award for Journalistic Infamy

By Nicholas Stix
web posted January 17, 2005

Mary Mapes, the CBS News producer from 60 Minutes who gave us Rathergate, has won the first journalism award given in memory of two of the worst rogues in the history of the profession, Walter Duranty and Jayson Blair. Duranty and Blair were both reporters for the New York Times, America's most corrupt newspaper. To borrow from NBA commissioner David Stern, on his decision to suspend Ron Artest and the other Indiana Pacers thugs in the recent "basketbrawl," the vote "was unanimous, 1-0."

Mary Mapes
Mapes in a 1999 photo

As previously detailed, Mapes was guilty of no less than three major journalistic offenses -- her "Shot in the Dark," Abu Ghraib, and Rathergate productions.

"A Shot in the Dark," Mapes' first major known hoax, which she produced in 1988 (and which aired on April 14, 1988) in cahoots with her husband, alleged reporter Mark Wrolstad (now with the Dallas Morning News), while at CBS' Seattle affiliate KIRO, got her her ticket to ride to CBS' New York "Black Rock" headquarters, where she began working closely with CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather. In "Shot," Mapes sought to destroy the career and life of Bob Lisoski, a diligent, big-hearted, Seattle policeman. Though the white officer's fatal February 17, 1988 shooting of black drug dealer Erdman Bascomb was determined to have been a justified if tragic use of force, Mapes, the facts be damned, used the fraudulent claims of Wardell Fincher, who had not witnessed the shooting, to portray the police officer as a racist murderer. Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter Michael A. Barber and photographer Gilbert W. Arias uncovered Fincher's fraud; they had accompanied police on the bust, and encountered the drunken Fincher as he wandered out of the weeds after the shooting, asking the journalists what had happened.

In Mapes' hyped Abu Ghraib story, which first aired on Wednesday 60 Minutes/60 Minutes II on April 28, Mapes portrayed the sexual degradation of suspected terrorists in the eponymous detainee facility as if it were on a par with the 1968 My Lai massacre during the War in Vietnam.

And in Rathergate (aka Memogate), which aired on Wednesday 60 Minutes/60 Minutes II on September 8, Mapes claimed to have worked on a "story" for "five years" showing that then-Lt. George W. Bush had been an insubordinate and inferior officer in the Texas Air National Guard during the War in Vietnam, who required influential family friends to exert political pressure on his commanders, to "sugar coat" a supposedly inferior record. In fact, Mapes' entire story rested upon forged "documents" that had come into her possession only four days prior to the broadcast. And she only obtained the "documents" from Bush nemesis Bill Burkett, after she had asked Burkett to come up with something. In Mapes' Rathergate hoax, her purpose was the same as in her Abu Ghraib hype job – by hook or by crook, to win the election for Sen. John Kerry.

Last fall, when Mapes' skullduggery finally came around to bedevil her, Dan Rather defended her. The Washington Post's Jennifer Frey wrote,

"'Mary Mapes earned my trust and the trust of her colleagues with years of excellent, fearless reporting,' Rather said in a statement provided to The Post. 'She is tireless in pursuit of a story and she has proven herself many times.'"

Frey's October 4 story was full of encomiums for Mapes from other CBS News reporters and executives. Such praise tells us much more about the speakers and their politics, and reporter Jennifer Frey, than it does about Mary Mapes.

On January 10, Mapes and three CBS News executives were fired for their respective roles in the Rathergate hoax. CBS whitewashed CBS News President Andrew Heyward and CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather's involvement in Rathergate.

But Mapes' media defenders still found subtle ways to show support for her. In MSNBC's story on the CBS report on Rathergate (PDF format), and the news that Mapes had been fired, the anonymous reporter wrote,

"The investigators found 'myopic zeal' to break the story and faulted the highly respected producer of the segment, Mary Mapes, in explaining why CBS News had produced a story that was neither fair nor accurate and did not meet the organization's internal standards."

That Mary Mapes could be referred to as "highly respected" after all that she'd done, tells you just about everything you need to know about the mainstream media.

The Duranty-Blair Award shall be given to any journalist whom this columnist feels has done yeoman's work in dragging down the journalism profession. The award may be given at any time, for a body of work or a single story, whether from last week or thirty years ago.

The Great Duranty

Walter Duranty
Duranty

From 1922-1941, Walter Duranty (1884-1957) was the New York Times' Man in Moscow. Duranty won the Pulitzer Prize in 1932, but rather than reporting what he saw, devoted himself to lying on behalf of genocidal Soviet dictator, Josef Stalin (1878-1953).

In 1929, Stalin began what he called, "the elimination of the kulaks as a class." The "kulaks" were Ukrainian peasants who ran modestly successful, independently-owned, family farms, and who resisted Stalin's collectivization policy. As Robert J. Stove wrote in his recent book, The Unsleeping Eye: Secret Police and Their Victims, "To Stalin's regime, with its collectivist mania, the very notion of peasants being allowed to continue owning small farms was an abomination…. In 1932 the truly exterminationist, deliberately engineered famine began…. At the lowest possible estimate, it killed six million. This did not stop Stalin, during the famine's early stages, from writing the remarkable first sentence to the USSR's first official culinary guide, The Book of Healthy and Tasty Food: 'Life has become better, life has become merrier.'"

As Arnold Beichman wrote in a 2003 article in the Weekly Standard, one year after Stalin had begun murdering as many as 200,000 kulaks per week (Duranty's own figure) through forced starvation, Duranty "reported,"

"Any report of a famine in Russia is today an exaggeration or malignant propaganda." -- New York Times, August 23, 1933

And as John Berlau wrote in the July 7, 2003 issue of Insight magazine,

"In 1933, at the height of the famine, Duranty wrote that 'village markets [were] flowing with eggs, fruit, poultry, vegetables, milk and butter. ... A child can see this is not famine but abundance.'"

Stalin also ordered the murders of tens of millions of other Soviet citizens, none of which Duranty reported. But other reporters, at newspapers abroad or with less influence on American politics than the New York Times, did tell of Stalin's genocide at the time. As John Berlau wrote,

"[Robert Conquest, author of The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine, on Stalin's genocide against the kulaks], himself a Jefferson Lecturer in the Humanities, also points out that many other newspapers and journalists got the story right at the time. 'In spite of everything, full or adequate reports appeared in the [British papers] the Manchester Guardian and the Daily Telegraph; [the French papers] Le Matin and Le Figaro; [the Swiss papers] the Neue Zuericher [sic] Zeitung and the Gazette de Lausanne; La Stampa in Italy, the Reichpost in Austria and scores of other Western papers,' he writes. 'In the United States, wide-circulation newspapers printed very full firsthand accounts by Ukrainian-American and other visitors (though these were discounted as, often, appearing in "right-wing" journals); and the Christian Science Monitor, the New York Herald Tribune (and the New York Jewish Forwaerts) gave broad coverage.' The now-defunct Chicago American even ran pictures of the pale, skeletal Ukrainian children and the fields littered with corpses."

Granted, Duranty won the Pulitzer for stories from 1931, but they were every bit as dishonest, in their shilling for Stalin and his five-year plan, as anything he wrote during the genocide in the Ukraine.

In 2003, after considering revoking Duranty and the Times' Pulitzer, the Pulitzer Prize Committee ultimately decided to let the newspaper keep the fraudulently won award. Meanwhile, as John Berlau reported, the Times was still in denial, regarding Duranty's lies.

"An e-mail sent to Insight by Catherine Mathis, vice president of corporate communications at the New York Times Co., explains: 'The Times has not seen merit in trying to undo history' by returning the Pulitzer. The e-mail insists: 'The Times has reported often and thoroughly on the defects in Duranty's journalism, as viewed through the lens of later events.'"

Times staffer David P. Kirkpatrick also lied on Duranty's behalf that year, insisting, as Roger Kimball observed, that Duranty was merely "credulous," and did not know about Stalin's genocide, when it was already a matter of public record that Duranty had told the British embassy in 1933 that Stalin had killed 10 million kulaks during the previous year alone, and that Duranty talked about the mass murder to colleagues (rationalizing it as but a small price to pay for progress), and even at dinner parties. The most famous line on Duranty comes from Malcolm Muggeridge, who had seen him in action in Moscow: "The greatest liar of any journalist I have met in fifty years of journalism." In other words, he would have fit in perfectly at Pinch Sulzberger's New York Times.

Jayson Blair

Jayson Blair was a New York Times reporter who, in May 2003, was exposed as having written at least 36 (and possibly hundreds) of stories based on his plagiarism of the work of real reporters, or on his having simply made up stories. Although Blair had a history of dishonesty and unreliability going back at least as far as college, and had lied about graduating from college, he was accepted, based solely to the color of his skin, to a coveted Times internship, hired as a reporter, promoted, and retained, in spite of repeated red flags and complaints.

The Times brass responded to Blair's every misstep, by promoting him!

And when he allegedly returned from hopscotching around the country on stories (which he had actually e-mailed in from New York cafes), nobody at the Times noted that he never had any hotel, car rental, or airline ticket receipts.

Eventually, Blair was made the lead reporter on the Washington, DC sniper case, where he invented out of whole cloth a story claiming that sniper John Muhammad had been about to confess to local authorities, just as the feds came to take him into federal custody.

Five days after the confession by then-executive editor Howell Raines, that Blair owed his job to his race, Times op-ed columnist Bob Herbert not only denied that race had played any role in the Blair Affair, but went on the offensive:

"Listen up: the race issue in this case is as bogus as some of Jayson Blair's reporting.

"But the folks who delight in attacking anything black, or anything designed to help blacks, have pounced on the Blair story …

"And while these agitators won't admit it, the nasty subtext to their attack is that there is something inherently wrong with blacks.

"There's a real shortage of black reporters, editors and columnists at The Times. But the few who are here are doing fine and serious work day in and day out and don't deserve to be stigmatized by people who can see them only through the prism of a stereotype.

"The problem with American newsrooms is too little diversity, not too much. Blacks have always faced discrimination and maddening double standards in the newsroom, and they continue to do so. So do women, Latinos and many other groups that are not part of the traditional newsroom in-crowd.

"So let's be real. Discrimination in the newsroom - in hiring, in the quality of assignments and in promotions - is a much more pervasive problem than Jayson Blair's aberrant behavior….

"And the correct response is not to grow fainthearted, or to internalize the views of those who wish you ill. The correct response is to strike back - as hard and as often as it takes."

Poor Blair called himself a victim of "racism" and got a six-figure book deal.

More recently, Blair's publicist, Ted Faraone, has sought to rehabilitate his client's reputation, claiming in a December 12 e-mail to me that Blair's misdeeds were due to his suffering "manic depression," that he was a good reporter when healthy, and that he is now receiving proper treatment.

Dear Mr. Stix:
 
The otherwise excellent analysis in your December 12 column misses the mark in one matter of fact.  No political significance can be attributed to the Jayson Blair scandal.  At the time of his journalistic fabrications -- which, incidentally, were in the nature of making up color and details of stories, not the gist of the stories themselves -- he was suffering from untreated manic depressive disorder, which brought about a deepening psychosis.  This led to a mental breakdown which played out in a 13,000 word story in the Sunday Times on Mothers Day, 2003. 
 
I know Jayson very well.  He covered a number of my clients during his stint at the Times.  A few months ago I took him on as a client in my media relations business.  When he was running on all ight cylinders, he was a good reporter.  His professional problems coincided with his worsening mental condition, a condition he tried hard to hide from his bosses out a combination of fear and pride.
 
It is troubling both to Jayson and to me that pundits at both ends of the politcal spectrum cite Jayson as an example of what is politically wrong with mainstream media.  This obscures his condition, news of which should serve as a cautionary tale.  Jayson, along with some two million other Americans, is a manic-depressive.  Untreated, manic-depression is a dangerous illness, which can often end in suicide.  Fortunately, Jayson, who was not diagnosed until after his professional demise, is under the care of an excellent psychiatrist and has been treated with medications that control the disorder.
 
Given the facts of Jayson's case, citing him in a political analysis undercuts, rather than supports the analysis.
 
Your points on Mary Mapes are well taken.  To my thinking, in the memo mess she was beating a dead horse.  The "Bush as son of privilege who got a sweet deal in the National Guard" story played out in the 2000 election.  By 2004 it was old news.  It would have been news if Bush had no strings pulled on his behalf, given his family's position.
 
Despite the questions raised about the George W. Bush of the 1970s, the voters of 2000 elected him president.  If that were not enough said, the voters of 2004 repeated the decision by a larger margin.  That should be the final word on what Bush did in the Guard a generation ago.
 
Best,
Ted Faraone
New York City

Ted Faraone is obviously a bright man, much brighter than the last publicist who wrote me, "Hard Hittin' Harry," who works for pro-al-Qaida rapper KRS-ONE. But Faraone is still a publicist, i.e., an advocate who like a defense attorney has the duty of putting the best public face on his client. While researching the three-part series I wrote on Blair in spring 2003, I was unable to find any period in which he was a legitimate journalist (Part I, Part II, and Part III).

Faraone's defense of Blair reminds me of the way my mother used to defend her late neighbor, Jean: "She's wonderful, when she's sober." The only problem was, there was no record of anyone (perhaps outside of Mom) ever seeing Jean sober. And so it is with Jayson Blair – for as long as he was writing, it was always something. This one says drugs, that one says manic depression.

In one respect – assuming I understand Faraone correctly – he is right. Unlike Mary Mapes, Jayson Blair was not seeking through fraud to undermine the American electoral system.

Walter Duranty, Jayson Blair, and Mary Mapes had in common that each worked for politically corrupt bosses who were uninterested in honest reporting. And in each case, after there could be no doubt as to the crooked journalist's misdeeds, he had cheerleaders who sought to cover up those misdeeds and to rehabilitate his reputation.

I apologize to New York Times publisher Arthur "Pinch" Sulzberger for not giving the first Duranty-Blair to any of his many worthy staffers. I had hoped to give the first award to a Timesman, but Mary Mapes' contributions to the corruption of journalism were simply overwhelming. But don't worry, Pinch, I'll catch you later.

Nicholas Stix can be reached at Add1dda@aol.com.

 

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