WashPost's Tom Shales Shows His Heart Bleeds for Dan Rather, Mary Mapes

November 23rd, 2005 7:17 AM

Washington Post TV critic Tom Shales also has a regular column in Television Week magazine, and now he's coming to the aid and support of disgraced (Shales calls her "highly respected") CBS producer Mary Mapes. The article chides CBS "uber-boss" Les Moonves for his hostility toward CBS News, since Mapes claims Moonves once "half-jokingly" said he'd like to "bomb the whole building." He brings up the George Clooney CBS-glorifying hatchet job "Good Night and Good News" to claim that maybe today, Congress will reopen the case not to investigate Joseph McCarthy, but to "lambaste 'the media' and how they covered the story." This is where it gets interesting. Shales complains about Vanity Fair being mean to Mapes:

The excerpt from Mapes' book is certainly compelling. How odd, though, that editors at Vanity Fair, one of the great magazines of our time, felt the need to seek out little rebuttals to some of her contentions and insert them into the piece with brackets around them. This is supposed to be Mapes' opportunity to defend herself. The vilifiers have had months to slash, bash and trash her, and they've made highly productive use of the opportunity. The well-worn phrase "field day" comes to mind. It's hardly being "fair and balanced" to offer them yet another platform, and right there within Mapes's own exercise in self-defense!

Fair and balanced means no trying to assess whether Mapes is still making things up. Shales lamented that the "chronic overreaction" to the Memogate fiasco (meaning firings used to "decimate" the news division) was "used to commit the apparent ultimate in Rather bashing." Shales gets out a hanky, as Rather was shown the door early without fanfare: 

Moonves didn't even offer a simple hail-and-farewell, something to say that the pint-size "scandal"-of-the-moment could hardly taint a career of such accomplishment and distinction. Even old-timers in the news division abandoned Rather. Bob Schieffer, in his absurd circus-clown neckties, should have refused the "CBS Evening News" anchor chair out of principle and loyalty, but he instead slipped right into it. Don Hewitt, hot-tempered founding father of "60 Minutes," ranted that Rather should have fallen on his sword and sacrificed himself, taking all the blame so as to spare the careers of the ousted producers. That's a ridiculous argument, especially since Rather's role in the original offending report was not an enormous one...

"I knew I could count on Dan," Mapes writes of the early days of the controversy. "He told me that he had confidence in the story and that he was lucky to work with me." For 43 years, CBS News could count on Dan and have confidence in him, and we could too. As for Moonves, he deserves a visit from Murrow's ghost, and whatever else the spirit tells him, the first words ought to be, "Get your hands off the news division and never go near it again."

That's funny. You'd think a critic of television (and television news) would actually object to a story aired on a national news network just weeks before an election employing "gotcha" documents that could not be authenticated. Isn't a critic supposed to stand for the best television has to offer? Isn't he supposed to critique television news when a network star misleads the viewer, and then when caught, complains that he doesn't have the burden of proof, that his target has to prove himself innocent? Shales has no place lecturing Moonves on who cares about journalistic excellence.

UPDATE: Shales goes to the Rather-smooching well again in a review of Ted Koppel's career this morning, calling Koppel's retirement from late night  "another ominous marker in the demise of network news, following as it does the unseemly dethroning of Dan Rather at CBS, the orderly retirement of Tom Brokaw at NBC and the tragic death of Peter Jennings at ABC."