"War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse." --John Stuart Mill (1806 - 1873)

Saturday, January 15, 2005

The Great White Whale

As numerous bloggers and pundits have observed, the leadership at CBS mistakenly believes that the Independent Review Panel's report on the Memogate scandal exonerates the network of the charge of political bias. Asked to identify the number-one "villian" in the scandal, Dick Thornburgh identified "haste". It is asserted that CBS, due to competitive pressures, rushed the story to air.

But Mary Mapes had been working on the story for five years. By all appearances, George Bush was Moby-Dick to Mary Mapes's Captain Ahab, and the story was her harpoon.

The panel's report contains the following e-mail from Mike Smith, a freelance reported who worked with Mapes on the Texas Air National Guard memo story. As the report explains, "In apparent anticipation that Lieutenant Colonel Burkett might be reluctant to show them the documents, Smith e-mailed a detailed proposal to Mapes on Tuesday, August 31, regarding putting Lieutenant Colonel Burkett in touch with an agent for a book deal, and Smith indicated that he would try to work something out with his publishing friends" (emphasis mine):

Today I am going to send the following hypothetical scenario to a reliable, trustable editor friend of mine . . .
What if there was a person who might have some information that could possibly change the momentum of an election but we needed to get an ASAP book deal to help get us the information? What kinds of turnaround payment schedules are possible, keeping in mind the book probably could not make it out until after the election . . . . What I am asking is in this best case hypothetical scenario, can we get a decent sized advance payment, and get it turned around quickly.

Then they will respond with some possible scenarios of what they could do. When we get to Burkett’s house I will have at least some scenarios to show Burkett about what could happen if he played ball with the documents. If he shows us what we want, then I can call my friend and tell him the real details and start the process.


Mapes's response was, "that looks good, hypothetically speaking of course."

This lays the cards on the table. Smith and Mapes were well aware that their story could damage the president. (I believe they far overestimated its traction with the electorate, however. George W. Bush never claimed to be a military hero, and most people simply don't care about his National Guard service.) Here we have a proposal to induce Burkett, through potential monetary gain, to produce documents that could (in Smith's and Mapes's minds) "possibly change the momentum of an election."

The agenda is clear. But the panel supposedly could not conclude that there was political bias in the reporting.