Excerpt: 'Truth and Duty'

ByABC News via logo
November 8, 2005, 2:56 PM

Nov. 7, 2005 — -- Last year the world of broadcast news was rocked when Dan Rather stepped down as CBS' evening news anchor after questions emerged over a network report on President Bush's National Guard service. The documents used in a segment of "60 Minutes II" were discredited; segment producer Mary Mapes' impressive career came crashing down -- she was fired from the network.

In a statement CBS News said: "Mary 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 thinks otherwise. In the upcoming issue of "Vanity Fair," she argues that the campaign to discredit the story she produced was little more than a political slime-job organized by Bush backers.

"I think I'm somebody who got fired for trying to do their job in a difficult atmosphere," she said. "I don't think I committed bad journalism, I really don't. I don't think I've done a good job for 25 years, woke up on the morning of September 8th and decided to commit professional hare kare."

Her book, "Truth and Duty: The Press, the President, and the Privilege of Power" (St. Martin's Press), details the fallout from the story and how Mapes has struggled to come to terms with the end of her illustrious career.

Read an excerpt of the book below.


I woke up smiling on September 9, 2004.

My story on George W. Bush's Guard service had run on "60 Minutes" the night before and I felt it had been a solid piece. We had worked under tremendous pressure because of the short time frame and the explosive content, but we'd made our deadline and, most important, we'd made news.

I was confident in my work and marveled once again at the teamwork and devotion of so many people at "60 Minutes." They really knew how to pull together to get a story on the air. I was also deeply proud of CBS News for having the guts to air a provocative story on a controversial part of the president's past.

By the end of the day, all of that would change. By the end of the month, I would be barred from doing my job and under investigation. By the end of the year, my long career at CBS News would essentially be over, after a long, excruciating, and very public beating.

But on this day, all that was unimaginable. I was just anxious to get into the office and get the reaction to the story. I raced to the hotel room door and pulled The New York Times and USA Today off the floor, curled up on the sofa, and read the front-page coverage of our story. Online, I checked The Washington Post and saw that there, too, it was front-page material.

It deserved to be, for a number of reasons.

Dan Rather and I had aired the first-ever interview with former Texas lieutenant governor Ben Barnes on his role in helping Bush get into the Texas Air National Guard. Getting Barnes to say yes had taken five years and I thought his interview was a home run. Finally, there were on-the-record, honest, straight-ahead answers from a man who intimately knew the ins and outs of the way Texas politics and privilege worked in the state National Guard units during the Vietnam War. Ben Barnes's version of events was crucial to understanding a significant chapter in President Bush's life from thirty years ago, an important key to unlocking the questions many Americans had about the man in the White House.

What had George W. Bush done during the volatile Vietnam years? Who was he back then, really? Was he a young man who volunteered to pilot fighter jets off the country's coastline, a brave young flier ready and willing to risk his life in the skies over Vietnam?

Or was George W. Bush -- like so many well-connected young men in the Vietnam era -- simply doing whatever he could to avoid fighting or flying anywhere near the jungles of Southeast Asia? Did he complete his service to the National Guard or walk away without looking back simply because his family's status meant that he could?

Did he do his duty? Did he tell the truth?

Our story on September 8, 2004 also presented never-before-seen documents purportedly written in 1972 by Bush's then-commander, Lt. Col. Jerry B. Killian. Killian had died in 1984 and his important testimony on Bush's service had not been part of all the years of debate that had raged over whether or not the president had fulfilled his Guard duties.

These documents appeared to show that Killian had not approved of Bush's departure from the Guard in 1972 to work on a Senate campaign for Republican Roy Blunt in Alabama. They showed that Killian had ordered Bush to take a physical that was never completed and that Killian had been pressured by his higher-ups to write better reports on Bush than were merited by the future president's performance. The Killian memos, as they came to be called, turned on its head the version of George W. Bush's Guard career that the White House had presented. These new memos made Bush look like a slacker, not an ace pilot.

I had spent weeks trying to get these pieces of paper and every waking hour since I had received them vetting each document for factual errors or red flags.

I worked to compare the new memos with the official documents I had received since 1999. They meshed in ways large and small.

Furthermore, the content, the essential truth of the story contained in the memos, had been corroborated by Killian's commander general Bobby Hodges in a phone conversation two days before the story aired. On September 6, he had said the memos reflected Killian's feelings at the time and this was what he remembered about how Killian had handled Bush's departure from the Guard.

We had a senior document analyst named Marcel Matley fly to New York to look at all the documents we had, the official documents that had been previously released by the White House as well as the "new" ones. After examining them for hours, blowing up signatures and comparing curves, strokes, and dots, he gave his best opinion on their authenticity. Since the documents were copies, not originals, he could not offer the 100 percent assurance that came by testing the ink or the paper.

But he said he saw nothing in the typeface or format to indicate the memos had been doctored or not produced at the time they were alleged to have been. The analyst also vouched for the Killian signatures after comparing them with more than a dozen other Killian signatures we had on the photocopied official documents. A second analyst, Jim Pierce, agreed after examining two of the Killian documents and comparing them to the official records and signatures.

I felt that I was in the clear, that I had done my job, and that the story met the high standards demanded by "60 Minutes."

I called my husband and son to say good morning, just as I had done every morning in all the years past when I was out of town. As always, my husband told me my work had looked great and my seven-year-old boy told me to come home as fast as I could and to bring him a surprise. It was a regular ritual.

I was staying at my favorite hotel home away from home, The Pierre, a grand old New York pile that is stuffy and high-priced. Without my CBS discount, I never would have seen the inside of the place.

The Pierre is also quiet, close to the office, and sweetly old-fashioned. Old-fashioned enough that Kitty Carlisle apparently still goes there often for "highballs," according to the hotel bartender, along with a male friend and their respective nurses. I once ran into her in the ladies' room, looking like she had just stepped off the set of "To Tell the Truth," mink capelet and all.

The elevator operators and doormen were older, too, and they were kind, always looking out for me. They knew me because of my regular visits and comfortingly clucked over how hard I was working when I stayed there.

On this trip, they had seen me leaving very early and coming in very late for the past few days. I had been staggering out to catch a cab to work by 9 a.m. and arriving back exhausted about 3 a.m. after the bar had closed and the hotel was buttoning up for the night. By the time I arrived, there was often no one in the lobby except a bellman, me, and perhaps a gaudily dressed female guest or two.