×

The Truth About ‘Truth’: Mary Mapes Says CBS News Didn’t Get It Wrong

I would like to ask Les Moonves out on a date — to the movies. I want to see “Truth” with him. Heck, I’ll even buy the popcorn.

Here’s why. Last week, in a question-and-answer session at a Variety breakfast, Moonves was asked about the film version of my spectacular firing from CBS News in 2005.

“Truth” is an uncannily accurate film about what happened when Dan Rather and our team reported an absolutely true story about then-President George W. Bush’s hit-and-miss Vietnam-era military service. We aired an exclusive interview with a Texas politician who admitted he got Bush a coveted spot in a National Guard unit, along with evidence that Bush went missing from service for more than a year.

Our report also used documents that traced to Bush’s former commander. All of us knew from the start that these memos could not be “authenticated” — a legal, not a journalistic, term — because they were copies, not originals. We were able to confirm the signatures and thoroughly vet the documents’ content and details. A panel of attorneys could not declare that the documents were fake.

We had already angered the Bush people by breaking the story of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib a few months earlier. Now, our Bush-National Guard story led the White House and its sympathizers to “release the Kracken.” We were all targeted — individual journalists, CBS as a corporation and, yes, even Moonves.

Whenever the film has come up, Moonves has said the same thing — that there is “very little truth in ‘Truth.’ ” He apparently feels so strongly that he turned down scads of money to run ads for it on CBS.

I would love to have the chance to tell him why he is wrong — because the film is very much my truth. It is not a view of what happened from his beautifully appointed corporate suite. But it is exactly what happened in the dingy offices of “60 Minutes II”; what happened in our editing rooms; during our tense interviews with sources; what happened when I was grilled before a brutal panel of attorneys; what happened in my Dallas home when I tried my best to keep my life together; and what happened in my heart when the job I loved so much was lost in a firestorm of political anger, confusion and media animosity.

It is what happened to journalism in an age of media consolidation and political polarization. It is what is still happening today in a presidential campaign when reporters are not allowed to use the word “lie” to describe a big, fat lie.

Moonves doesn’t know these things. He couldn’t know this stuff.  He is a very smart guy in a very tough business who has already forgotten more than I will ever learn about the entertainment industry. And while he was in charge of CBS News, he never lived and breathed journalism the way I did — the way everyone at CBS did. He didn’t know my work, my history or me.

I would love a chance to sit in a darkened theater with him and tell him that this is precisely how the story played out. I want him to know that Cate Blanchett captures perfectly my despair and eventual “oh, what the hell” defiance, that Robert Redford so channeled Dan Rather that it took my breath away, that James Vanderbilt is an incredibly sensitive and elegant writer and director, that everyone who worked on the film brought their “A” game.

I want him to know that it was a terribly difficult time for all of us, including him. I understand that. I’d like him to understand that my truth is, by necessity, different from his.

I’d like him to see “Truth” with someone who knows the truth.

Mary Mapes produced the “60 Minutes II” report on George W. Bush’s National Guard service, and wrote the book on which “Truth” is based.

Popular on Variety

More Voices

  • "The Stockholm Syndrome" - Pictured: Rajesh

    Emmys: Is It Time to Give Multicams Their Own Category? (Column)

    The question of whether multi-camera sitcoms are a dying breed isn’t a new one. The few remaining purveyors of the format, including “The Big Bang Theory” executive producer Chuck Lorre, have been asked that question for years. But even as Lorre ventures into the single-camera world with such shows as the Golden Globe-winning “The Kominsky [...]

  • Veep HBO

    Celebrating Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Emmy's Comedy Queen (Column)

    Let’s take a moment to give Julia Louis-Dreyfus some much-deserved praise. As HBO’s “Veep” ends its run — and aims to add a coda to its already amazing haul over the years at the Emmys — the actress is poised to make history one more time this September. All signs point to another win in [...]

  • Emma Watson MTV Movie Awards

    It's Time for the Emmys to Eliminate Gender-Specific Acting Categories (Column)

    As TV and storytelling continue to evolve, does it still make sense to silo male and female performers into separate Emmy categories? Splitting up “outstanding actor” and “outstanding actress” awards as if they’re different skill sets seems like an outdated practice — yet combining them, and eliminating half of the key acting Emmys in the [...]

  • The Good Place NBC

    Broadcasters Committed to Emmy Telecast Despite Cable, Streaming Dominance (Column)

    Here’s what you won’t see much of at the Primetime Emmy Awards on Fox: Fox.  It’s Fox’s turn to telecast the ceremony, yet it’s a somewhat bittersweet affair for the network, which only landed 18 nominations this year. That means few Fox stars will even be in attendance at the Microsoft Theater, let alone onstage, [...]

  • Eugene Levy Schitts Creek

    Emmy Nods to Veteran Actors Prove Importance of Longevity (Column)

    Despite some well-documented snubs, Television Academy members did a great job with this year’s Emmy nominations when it came to recognizing new series, such as FX’s “Pose” and Netflix’s “Russian Doll,” as well as rising talent including Anthony Carrigan (HBO’s “Barry”), Joey King (Hulu’s “The Act”) and Billy Porter (“Pose”). That spotlight on fresh series [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content