8.24.2016

Mary Mapes: Truth and Duty



I put this book on my Christmas list immediately after seeing the movie adaptation, Truth (2015), in theatres. It's an excellent movie and I highly recommend it but the book is better. If anyone can remember the Bush-Guard story and subsequent drama on 60 Minutes from 2004- that's what this is about. Mary Mapes (the author) was the CBS producer who put the story together that ruined hers and Dan Rather's careers.

My copy of the book has a forward by Mapes, written after the movie was released and includes her commentary on the film. It is clear she's meant to reflect on the now 10 year old events and have a different outlook but that's not the case. Besides her gratitude that Cate Blanchett plays her in the adaptation, you can tell she is still a very bitter woman with a ton of resentment for CBS.

Despite knowing the story, I loved reading this book. I love to hear a woman blab on about how she was wronged, true or not. In this case though, it's very hard not to take Mapes' side. As a brief synopsis: Mapes was a Pulitzer-winning journalist who produced a story that was contested and was eventually fired for it. There were lot of problems with the story about President Bush ducking his National Guard duties (and that is for a more political type of blog to discuss) but what's clear the entire time is she really felt like she did her job to the best of her ability.

A theme recurring throughout is the idea that the public is now its own journalist. Nothing can be said in the news without a thousand bloggers causing a stir and contesting the facts, despite the fact that they need no credibility and are held to no journalistic standards. I can see immediately how this would be frustrating. Even now, when somebody who has no idea what my job is tries to tell me how I could have done it better, I turn into a scary, defensive version of myself. In 2004 the internet was starting to become a real weapon and Mapes was merely one of the first victims to a public slashing of proper journalism (something we see everyday now).

The best part of the book is simply how relatable the author is. Her remarks on her co-workers, bosses, actions, etc. are how I would expect any (woman's) to be in a similar situation. This makes it incredibly easy to read, despite being 384 pages of what could seem like bureaucratic bullshit. I do find the title and cover unfortunate, however. For some reason I was almost embarrassed to be carrying around a book with Bush's face on it with a title that seemed so overtly political. I was on the defensive when people asked me what I was reading- "It's a female journalist's memoir back-off."

Overall I think this would be a fantastic book for anyone to read who's remotely interested in powerful women, journalism, politics, or this specific incident at CBS. If anything else, Mapes won a Pulitzer for her work breaking Abu Ghraib and then was fired just one story later and never worked in journalism again, how is that not interesting?


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