As 'Truth' Debuts, NY Times Coverage of the Saga Contains Very Little of It

October 17th, 2015 1:02 AM

As I noted on Friday, the New York Times has become the de facto head cheerleader for Truth, the movie which purports to tell the story behind CBS News's 60 Minutes report on President George W. Bush's Texas Air National Guard service in the early 1970s aired in September 2004.

The Old Gray Lady has hosted a TimesTalk video in which one of the film's lead actors, Robert Redford as Dan Rather, claims that the movie gives the offending journalists "their day in court." (Trust me, Bob. The last place they want to be is in a real courtroom; Rather found that out the hard way several years ago.) The paper's Stephen Holden has reviewed the movie, finding it "a gripping, beautifully executed journalistic thriller." As if that's not enough, on Wednesday, John Koblin's "news story" covering the "Rathergate" saga allowed the Truthers, so to speak, to continue to make claims, even about the related obviously fraudulent documents they used, which simply don't hold up.

Before getting into the detail, I must also note that while the online version of Koblin's story is "In ‘Truth,’ a News Team Tells Its Side of a ‘60 Minutes II’ Scandal," the print edition title used was "Film Revisits '60 Minutes II' Bush Scandal." The Times apparently still thinks that former CBS new anchor Dan Rather, producer Mary Mapes, and others associated with this project exposed something sordid about Bush. They did no such thing.

Here are excerpts from Koblin's calamity (bolds and numbered tags are mine):

Last week, the former CBS News producer Mary Mapes was back on West 53rd Street at the Museum of Modern Art for the premiere of the movie “Truth.” Ms. Mapes, the author of the book that inspired this movie, got a Hollywood welcome from an adoring crowd and blew a kiss to the film’s director and screenwriter, James Vanderbilt.

The warm reception was a considerably different scene from what Ms. Mapes confronted just across the street 11 years earlier, at CBS’s Midtown headquarters, where the story of “Truth” took shape.

... The movie, which opens Friday, is about Ms. Mapes’s segment that was built around documents suggesting President George W. Bush had received preferential treatment for his National Guard service in the early 1970s. But in the days following the broadcast, the documents were subjected to withering scrutiny, [1] and within two weeks, and in the heat of the 2004 presidential election, CBS said it could not authenticate them.

The story unraveled, and so did the team that produced it: CBS apologized, three producers resigned, Ms. Mapes was fired and would never return to television news. Two months after it aired, Dan Rather, the “CBS Evening News” anchor and the correspondent for the segment, announced he was retiring. Months later, “60 Minutes II” was canceled.

It was one of the earliest examples of the power of the Internet and the information it makes readily available, which enabled an instant review of a fabled institution’s reporting. [2] In the years since, the episode was, at least in some quarters, considered a settled matter [3] — this was flawed reporting.

Now the movie, which stars Cate Blanchett as Ms. Mapes and Robert Redford as Mr. Rather, will reopen a conversation about a journalistic controversy that had faded away, especially since it relies on the viewpoint of Ms. Mapes. She and Mr. Rather have long claimed their report was true, if imperfectly executed. [4] The movie gives voice to their cause.

... The battle lines are clear: CBS said it could not prove the documents were real and the story was bogus as a result; Mr. Rather and Ms. Mapes maintain that no one can prove that they were forgeries. [5]

Notes, in reverse order, because Item [5] makes the other items completely obvious:

[5] — Within 48 hours of CBS's report, bloggers proved beyond doubt that the documents were forgeries. I'll name just two:

Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs recreated an exact replica of one of the documents in the 2003 version of Microsoft Word:


Microsoft Word did not exist in the early 1970s, nor did any personal computers with proportional font spacing. The most advanced typewriter technology at the time could conceivably have created the document, but there is no plausible reason to believe that technology would even have been available, let alone usable, by Texas Air National Guard officers or their secretaries.

Jeremy Chrysler at the SpacetownUSA blog created another analagous document which is still animated, so readers can how exact the replication is:


In Dan Rather's and Mary Mapes's alternative universe, the only way anyone will ever "prove" that the Killian documents were forgeries is if the world sees contemporaneous close-up footage of Bill Burkett, Lucy Ramirez, or someone else typing them out on a PC or Mac from beginning to end. That standard wouldn't be necessary in a courtroom, nor is it necessary in these circumstances. The documents are proven forgeries.

[4] — Sorry Dan, Mary, Bob and Cate. Without the documents you have nothing. Additionally, as I noted in Friday's post, Mapes "had learned in the course of her reporting that no influence was used to get President Bush into the TexANG," and "had been told by (Bush commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Jerry) Killian’s son that Bush volunteered to go to Vietnam and was turned down because he didn’t have enough flying time." She failed to report those obviously important facts. Mapes and Rather had nothing then; they have nothing now.

[3] — It is and always will be a "settled matter" that the Killian documents were forgeries, and that the 60 Minutes report had no credible basis.

[2] —The Killian documents were exposed as forgeries after an "instant review" by a commenter at the night of the 60 Minutes broadcast. Everything else which transpired from there was about pressuring CBS to admit to what was obvious.

[1] —The "withering scrutiny" to which Koblin refers was in fact nothing but desperate attempts to ignore or disprove what could not be ignored or disproven by CBS's friends in the establishment press — and character assassination attempts aimed at "guys in pajamas" questioning storied news organizations which supposedly had "multiple layers of checks and balances."

Eleven years on, the Times still hasn't budged from its hysterically and historically embarrassing "fake but accurate" position — and the Rosenburgs really weren't spies, and Joe Stalin really wasn't such a bad guy, and "Mao’s legacy is not all bad," and on, and on.

Cross-posted at