Beltway Beat — Thursday, September 23

by Brian Wilson for FOX Fan Central

On Mapes, Lockhart, and Rather

I am appalled, as any reputable journalist would be, that CBS did not thoroughly authenticate documents that leveled such a serious charge. I am stunned that Dan Rather and others apparently ignored the warnings offered by some experts who suggested that the memos were as phony as a three-dollar bill.  I cannot believe the Tiffany network waited so long to admit that perhaps something was amiss.

All those things are bad enough, but what really stands out as egregious to me is the revelation that CBS producer Mary Mapes called the Kerry campaign and asked one Joe Lockhart to have a conversation with dubious source Bill Burkett. This is confirmed by the Kerry campaign and has not been refuted by CBS.

Wow. Unbelievable.

Now, I know Joe Lockhart.  He was press secretary back when I was assigned to cover the Clinton White House.  I can't say that I always saw eye to eye with him — and lord knows, he never went out of his way to cut me any slack.  But here he did nothing incorrect or wrong in my mind.  He followed a lead and listened to a guy who claimed to have some interesting information.

Ms. Mapes, on the other hand, should be banned from the practice of journalism from this day forward. It's a no-brainer. She crossed the line from independent and dispassionate arbiter of facts to political activist.  It is an unforgivable sin.  Even my most liberal reporter friends in this industry privately agree that Mapes' actions go well beyond what is proper and acceptable.  If she's not toast soon, it will be clear that CBS is not very serious about its promised investigation.

Now that I have that out of my system, let me turn to a couple of other thoughts on this topic.

I've met Dan Rather, though I do not profess to know him well.  I believe Dan Rather failed miserably here in his role as Managing Editor.  However, I must say on a personal level that I am saddened to see this incident cloud his reputation near the end of his career.  Oh, I am not blind to his eccentricities or his proclivities to exhibit bizarre behavior.  There have been times when I thought Mr. Rather's zeal for a story caused him to go a overboard.  He is and always has been a lightning rod for controversy.  I will not be an apologist for Dan Rather. We'll leave that to Tom Shales of the Washington Post.

But that aside, I must admit that as a young man, I watched his work in Vietnam, at the Nixon White House, on "60 Minutes" and was undeniably impressed.  I read his book, “The Camera Never Blinks,” and made a decision to enter the field of journalism.  Through osmosis I have absorbed stylistic bits and pieces from great journalists and great communicators I have studied over the years — Hume, Donaldson, Cronkite, Hager, Osgood, Kuralt, Harvey — even Carson and Letterman.  There is also a small bit of Dan's folksy style that creeps in from time to time.  Of this I am not ashamed.

Tough times, Dan. Courage.

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