I woke up smiling on September 9, 2004.
My story on George W. Bush's Guard service had run on 60 Minutes the night before and I felt it had been a solid piece. We had worked under tremendous pressure because of the short time frame and the explosive content, but we'd made our deadline and, most important, we'd made news.
I was confident in my work and marveled once again at the teamwork and devotion of so many people at 60 Minutes. They really knew how to pull together to get a story on the air. I was also deeply proud of CBS News for having the guts to air a provocative story on a controversial part of the president's past.
By the end of the day, all of that would change. By the end of the month, I would be barred from doing my job and under investigation. By the end of the year, my long career at CBS News would essentially be over, after a long, excruciating, and very public beating.
But this morning, all that was unimaginable. I was just eager to get into the office and get the reaction to the story. I raced to the hotel room door and pulled The New York Times and USA Today off the floor, curled up on the sofa, and read the front-page coverage of our story. Online, I checked The Washington Post and saw that there, too, it was front-page material.
It deserved to be, for a number of reasons.
Dan Rather and I had aired the first-ever interview with formerTexas lieutenant governor Ben Barnes on his role in helping Bush get into the Texas Air National Guard. Getting Barnes to say yes had taken five years and I thought his interview was a home run. Finally, there were on-the-record, honest, straight-ahead answers from a man who intimately knew the ins and outs of the way Texas politics and privilege worked in the state National Guard units during the Vietnam War. Ben Barnes's version of events was crucial to understanding a significant chapter in President Bush's life from thirty years ago, an important key to unlocking the questions many Americans had about the man in the White House.
What had George W. Bush done during the volatile Vietnam years? Who was he back then, really? Was he a young man who volunteered to pilot fighter jets off the country's coastline, a brave young flier ready and willing to risk his life in the skies over Vietnam?
Or was George W. Bush--like so many well-connected young men in the Vietnam era--simply doing whatever he could to avoid fighting or flying anywhere near the jungles of Southeast Asia? Did he complete his service in the National Guard or walk away without looking back simply because his family's status meant that he could?
Did he do his duty? Did he tell the truth about his time in the National Guard?
Our story on September 8, 2004, also presented never-before-seen documents purportedly written in 1972 and 1973 by Bush's then-commander, Lt. Col. Jerry B. Killian. Killian died in 1984 and his important testimony on Bush's service had not been part of the years of debate that raged over whether the president had fulfilled his Guard duties.
These documents appeared to show that Killian had not approved of Bush's departure from the Guard in 1972 to work on a U.S. Senate campaign for Republican Winton Blount in Alabama. They showed that Killian had ordered Bush to take a physical that was never completed and that Killian had been pressured from higher up to write better reports on Bush than were merited by the future president's performance. The Killian memos, as they came to be called, turned on its head the version of George W. Bush's Guard career that the White House had presented. These new memos made Bush look like a slacker, not an ace pilot.
I had spent weeks trying to get these pieces of paper and every wakinghour since I had received them vetting each document for factual errors or red flags.
I worked to compare the new memos with Bush's official records, which I had received since 1999. They meshed in ways large and small.
Furthermore, the content, the essential truth of the story contained in the memos, had been corroborated by Killian's commander Gen. Bobby Hodges in a phone conversation two days before the story aired. On September 6, he had said the memos reflected Killian's feelings at the time and this was what he remembered about how Killian had handled Bush's departure from the Guard.
We had a senior document analyst named Marcel Matley fly to New York to look at all the documents we had, the official documents that had been previously released by the White House as well as the "new" ones. After examining them for hours, blowing up signatures and comparing curves, strokes, and dots, he gave his best opinion on their authenticity. Since the documents were copies, not originals, he could not offer the 100 percent assurance that came by testing the ink or the paper.
But he said he saw nothing in the typeface or format to indicate the memos had been doctored or had not been produced in the early 1970s. The analyst also vouched for the Killian signatures after comparing them with a number of other Killian signatures on the photocopied official documents. A second analyst, Jim Pierce, agreed with Matley after examining two of the new documents, one of which had a signature. Pierce came to this judgment after comparing our memos to the official records and signatures.
I felt that I was in the clear, that I had done my job, and that the story met the high standards demanded by 60 Minutes.
I called my husband and son to say good morning, just as I had done every morning in all the years past when I was out of town. As always, my husband told me my work had looked great and my seven-year-old boy told me to come home as fast as I could and to bring him a surprise. It was our ritual.
I was staying at my favorite home away from home, The Pierre, a grand old New York hotel. Without my CBS discount, I never would have seen the inside of the place.
The Pierre is also quiet, close to the office, and sweetly old-fashioned. Old-fashioned enough that Kitty Carlisle apparently stillgoes there often for "highballs," according to the staff, along with a male friend and their respective nurses. I once ran into her in the ladies' room, looking like she had just stepped off the set of To Tell the Truth, mink capelet and all.
The elevator operators and doormen were older, too, and they were kind, always looking out for me. They knew me because of my regular visits and irregular hours, and comfortingly clucked over how hard I was working when I stayed there.
On this trip, they had seen me leaving very early and coming in very late for the past few days. I had been staggering out to catch a cab to work by 9:00 A.M. and arriving back exhausted at about 3:00 A.M. after the bar had closed and the hotel was buttoning up for the night. By the time I arrived, there was often no one in the lobby except a bellman, me, and perhaps a gaudily dressed female guest or two.
I often wondered what those women thought I did for a living. Disheveled and limping, straggling along with a heavy briefcase full of files, I entered the hotel lobby each night looking like a failing hooker for that small subset of customers who preferred exhausted, unkempt professional women.
On this morning, though, my energy was back. I was exhilarated by another success.
When I got to work, my mood was reinforced. I made rounds to thank the video editors who had worked so hard to get the story put together in time for air. Their jobs are not for the faint of heart or for people who panic when time is short or the workload is overwhelming.
I ran into other producers and correspondents and collected hugs and kisses and congratulations. There were jokes about what we would do as a follow-up. Dan and I had broken the Abu Ghraib prison abuse story in late April. Now this. My team, the people at 60 Minutes, and Dan all felt like we were on a roll.
The new executive producer of the Wednesday edition of 60 Minutes, Josh Howard, gave me a hug and congratulations, following up on a flattering e-mail he had sent me around midnight the night before: "I was just sitting here thinking about how amazing you are. I'm buckled in, ready to see where you'll take us next. Let's go!"
There was no hint of what was to come, no whiff of doubt about the work we had done on the story.
I saw CBS vice president Betsy West standing in the building's eighth-floor lobby, waiting for the slow, unreliable elevators, and we laughed at how awful the previous night had been, how hurried and harried we were, trying to get the story on. There had been shouting and impatience and flashes of anger. She laughed and said, "That's as close to the sausage making as I ever want to get." I told her that we'd gotten sausage all over us and that was as close as I ever wanted to come to missing my deadline. We both felt good about the story and agreed that it had looked polished on the air, in contrast to the carnage left behind in the editing rooms and the offices where we had done our scripting.
This behind-the-scenes chaos was not particularly unusual in television news. For fifteen years at CBS I had pushed back against deadlines to perfect a script, to change a shot, to make a story better. I had never missed a deadline, never put on a story that I did not feel comfortable with.
There was nothing more important to me, or to any of us at 60 Minutes, than getting the story right, no matter how limited the time or how tough the topic. I had a well-earned reputation for being able to "crash," to get a story on quickly and competently.
For whatever reason--probably because I grew up in a large, loud, distracting family--I was able to focus when others couldn't. I could keep writing when the room was full of people yelling at the top of their lungs. I was able to think clearly when the clock seemed to be ticking too fast.
The previous year, I had "crashed" an entire hour overnight for the Wednesday edition of 60 Minutes. Dan Rather had done interviews with Ron Young and David Williams, the two Apache helicopter pilots who had been shot down and captured in Iraq. Rescued by U.S. Marines, the two men had been pursued by countless reporters and producers for an interview. My wonderful friend and associate producer, Dana Roberson, helped me talk the two pilots into trusting us to tell their story.
Steve Glauber, a veteran 60 Minutes producer, had worked round the clock, flying to the other side of the world and then back from Kuwait in forty-eight hours, carrying precious videotape. He had done touching and important interviews with the rest of the pilots' unit, men and women who had mourned the two lost airmen after their crash. The unit members had vowed to find their comrades and hadflown out on mission after mission wearing headbands with the two pilots' names on them.
We did the interviews with the pilots at two o'clock on Tuesday afternoon. They were great. But I only had a few hours to write the script and organize the editing of the broadcast, in order to make it to air the following night. And all of it had to be overseen and approved by Jeff Fager, then the broadcast's executive producer, and his right hand, senior producer Patti Hassler.
With their help and guidance, I was able to get the script done. The editors were phenomenal and put together a beautiful, heart-wrenching, and illuminating hour.
But there had been more than a few furrowed brows. Editor David Rubin had been doing his trademark shrieking down the hall from our office as he cut in pieces of digitized tape. Everyone was dead tired and on a brutal deadline. By airtime, we were all staggering around like the undead. But we had done it. And the next day, we'd had the same kind of tired but happy conversations we were having on September 9.
This was another day of exhausted exultation. I got congratulatory e-mails, phone calls, and pats on the back. Other reporters called repeatedly as they worked to catch up to my story. I was thrilled.
Things began to change at about 11:00 A.M., when I first started hearing rumbles from some producers at CBS News that a handful of far right Web sites were saying that the documents had been forged.
I was incredulous. That couldn't be possible. Even on the morning the story aired, when we showed the president's people the memos, the White House hadn't attempted to deny the truth of the documents. In fact, the president's spokesman, Dan Bartlett, had claimed that the documents supported their version of events: that then-lieutenant Bush had asked for permission to leave the unit.
Within a few minutes, I was online visiting Web sites I had never heard of before: Free Republic, Little Green Footballs, Powerline. They were hard-core, politically angry, hyperconservative sites loaded with vitriol about Dan Rather and CBS. Our work was being compared to that of Jayson Blair, the discredited New York Times reporter who had fabricated and plagiarized stories.
These Web sites had extensive write-ups on the documents: on typeface, font style, and proportional spacing, questions that seemed tocome out of nowhere. It was phenomenal. It had taken our analysts hours of careful work to make comparisons. It seemed that these analysts or commentators--or whatever they were--were coming up with long treatises in minutes. They were all linking to one another, creating an echo chamber of outraged agreement.
I was told that the first posting claiming the documents were fakes had gone up on Free Republic before our broadcast was even off the air! How had the Web site even gotten copies of the documents? We hadn't put them online until later. That first error-filled and overblown entry, posted by a longtime Republican activist lawyer who used the name "Buckhead," set the tone for what was to come.
There was no analysis of what the documents actually said, no work done to look at the content, no comparison with the official record, no phone calls made to check the facts of the story, nothing beyond a cursory and politically motivated examination of the typeface. That was all they had to attack, but that was enough.
People from around the country, especially those with an angry far right political bent, began chiming in on the sites with accounts of their own experience with typewriters in the 1970s. Some incorrectly claimed to remember that electric typewriters at the time did not do "superscripts," small "th" or "st" or some such abbreviations following a number and lifted higher on the line than the other letters. This was important because, in the Killian memos, "111th" was sometimes typed as "111th," something that drove the bloggers wild. Other bloggers claimed there was no proportional spacing on old typewriters--using different widths for different characters--even though some of the old official documents had proportional spacing. The claims snowballed.
I remember staring, disheartened and angry, at one posting. "60 Minutes is going down," the writer crowed.
My heart started to pound. There is nothing more frightening for a reporter than the possibility of being wrong, seriously wrong. That is the reason why we checked and rechecked, argued about wording, took care to be certain that the video that accompanied the words didn't create a new and unintended nuance. Being right, being sure, was everything. And right now, on the Internet, it appeared everything was falling apart.
I had a real physical reaction as I read the angry online accounts. It was something between a panic attack, a heart attack, and a nervousbreakdown. My palms were sweaty; I gulped and tried to breathe. My chest was pounding like I had become a cartoon character whose heart outline pushes out the front of her shirt with each beat. The little girl in me wanted to crouch and hide behind the door and cry my eyes out.
The longtime reporter in me was pissed off ... and I hung on to her strength and certainty for dear life. I had never been fundamentally wrong, never been fooled, never been under this kind of attack. I resolved to fight back.
I talked to our document analyst Marcel Matley, now back in San Francisco, who said he had seen some of the comments and dismissed them out of hand. "They aren't even looking at the quality of copies I did," Matley said. He disdained the anonymity of the postings, saying that any real analysts would use their name and credentials. And he pointed out something that would be a huge problem for us in the days ahead: that in the process of downloading, scanning, faxing, and photocopying, some computers, copiers, and faxes changed spacing and altered the appearance and detail of fonts. He thought that this basic misunderstanding of how documents changed through electronic transmittal was behind the unfounded certainty and ferocity of the attack on the documents.
In retrospect, Matley was right and our story never recovered from this basic misunderstanding. Faxing changes a document in so many ways, large and small, that analyzing a memo that had been faxed--in some cases not once, but twice--was virtually impossible. The faxing destroyed the subtle arcs and lines in the letters. The characters bled into each other. The details of how the typed characters failed to line up perfectly inside each word were lost.
And these faxed, scanned, and downloaded documents were the only versions of the memos ever made public. A comparison of one of the documents before faxing and after faxing is in Appendix 1.
But I thought Matley's belief that a technical misunderstanding was all that was behind the ferocious attack was too good to be true.
I was afraid that this time Matley, who was an experienced document analyst and longtime expert witness, was out of his element. He knew a great deal about documents and signatures. But I knew attack politics.
I knew what we were seeing was not a simple mistake made because of technical differences in the way the documents looked. This was something else, something new and fundamentally frightening. I had never seen this kind of response to any story. This was like rounding a corner in the woods and spotting a new creature, all venom and claws and teeth. You didn't know what it was, but you knew it was out to get you.
As I watched the postings pile up and saw the words quickly become more hateful, it dawned on me that I was watching the birth of a political jihad, a movement conceived in radical conservative back rooms, given life in cyberspace, and growing by the minute. It fed on political anger and the deep-seated belief that CBS News was a longtime liberal stronghold out to get the president.
This bias on the part of some viewers had been around for decades. These were people who hadn't forgiven Edward R. Murrow for taking on Joseph McCarthy, people who still referred to CBS as the "Communist Broadcasting System."
That was something a man in rural Texas actually said to me not long after I started at CBS in 1989, when I approached him and asked if he would do a quick interview on a new boom in oil drilling.
"CBS?" he sneered. "Don't you mean the Communist Broadcasting System?" I was dumbfounded.
To these people, there was no such thing as unbiased mainstream reporting, certainly not when it came to criticism of the president, no matter how tepid. To them, there was FOX News commentary and everything else--and everything else was liberal and unfair.
All the producers and researchers who'd worked on our story were hunched over computers, reading everything they could find. It was not good. We marveled at what we believed to be just-plain-wrong assertions about superscript or proportional spacing and the overwhelming certainty the bloggers brought to their analysis.
One element of the attack was not a bit surprising: the savaging of former Texas lieutenant governor Ben Barnes. He had predicted an assault on his reputation and he had been right, in spades.
While Barnes had never answered questions about his assistance in getting the president into the Texas Air National Guard, over the yearshe had often hinted that he'd had a hand in it. He would drop into conversation that a Bush family friend had asked him to help out "young George." Barnes had told people in countless private settings that he remembered being asked to make a phone call on Bush's behalf. But while Barnes would confirm everything off the record and had even testified to it under oath in a convoluted lawsuit involving the Texas state lottery, he had never before sat down, answered questions, and told the story in front of God and everybody. Now, he had.
I could see that conservative Web sites were linking to a dossier on Barnes compiled by Republican operatives. It was a devastatingly one-sided account of Barnes's past financial troubles and long-ago political scrapes, along with ancient accusations about Barnes when he had been a Democratic leader in Texas.
Barnes had remained an active Democrat and now was working as a fund-raiser for John Kerry as well as a full-time lobbyist in Washington. He'd told Dan Rather and me that if he did the interview with us he could essentially lose his lobbying business. In Washington, D.C., where influence is measured in access, having doors slammed in your face would be the death knell for a lobbyist.
In fact, the fear of a brass-knuckle Republican backlash that demolished people emotionally and financially was what kept Barnes and many others in Texas from speaking out about Bush's military service for years. I had always dismissed that kind of fear, in Barnes and the many others who were reluctant to speak out. I thought their worries were overdramatic. I mean, how bad could it be? Sure, there'd be criticism, but having the truth finally out in the open would be worth it.
I was beginning to find out how wrong I was.
Political operatives were having a field day turning Ben Barnes into their latest pinata, and his larger-than-life history was making it easy. He had been a boy wonder in Texas politics until a financial scandal in the early seventies had tainted him--unfairly, as it turned out. He was investigated, along with a number of other state politicians, for taking bribes in the Sharpstown payola scandal. Sharpstown was a Texas-sized bribery and development scandal that muddied the reputations of a number of once powerful state politicians, who were accused of handing out political favors in exchange for cash. There were never any charges filed against Barnes, never any case brought against him.
He and former Texas governor John Connally had lost their fortunes together rather spectacularly during the savings and loan bust in the eighties. Furthermore, Barnes had a well-deserved reputation as the life of the party, a glib, funny, overwhelmingly charming man who turned heads, slapped backs, and twisted arms to get what he wanted.
He has always been louder than life, a living, breathing caricature of a Texas politician. Now the Republicans were turning over every aspect of his personality, every past action, and recycling them into mud to throw at him and defuse his story.
I felt terrible for him and for his family. He had told us that he worried most about the impact doing the interview would have on his wife and two young daughters.
I knew Barnes was pretty tough. He had been on the scene of countless political and financial implosions. It was his political good fortune to always be the one person who would come staggering out of the building when it blew up. He might be covered with smoke and ash, his clothes ripped and ragged, but he would be alive and he would begin rebuilding his career.
I knew he would be able to make it through again. I didn't know that I would not.
By that afternoon, I had taken dozens of increasingly nervous phone calls from Betsy West and Josh Howard. Both of them were reading the blogs and growing more worried by the moment.
I remember looking at the Drudge Report at about 3:00 P.M. and seeing that the lead was a huge picture of Dan with the headline saying something like "Shaken and Stunned, Rather Hiding in Office." The story went on to link to the other raging and derisive far right Web sites running critiques of the documents.
The phone rang and it was Dan. "Mary, someone has just handed me something from the Drudge Report saying that I am all shook up and hiding in my office. I just want you to know that's not true. I'm not worried and I'm not even in my goddamned office."
I knew I could count on Dan. In tough situations, he became "fightin' Dan," someone who told us "never back up, never back down, never give up, never give in." I was glad to hear from him and reassured by his reaction. Dan told me he was confident in the story and that he was lucky to work with me. He signed off by saying something that hadbecome a shorthand for us over the years: "F-E-A." That was code for "F-- 'Em All," a sentiment that needed to be expressed from time to time in any newsroom. Dan was too much of a gentleman to say the real thing--at least most of the time. But he knew that under deadline or work pressure I often felt that sentences could be improved by some form of the "f" word. At this point, I deeply appreciated the sentiment.
The day continued to deteriorate. I got a stream of tag team phone calls from Josh Howard and Betsy West. They each began with the same ominous words: "Mary, have you seen [fill in the blank]?" It could be the Drudge Report, Powerline, something on FOX News, or a new posting on Little Green Footballs. Or worse yet, "Mary, we've gotten a call from [fill in the blank]." It could be The Washington Post, The New York Times, the New York Post, the Los Angeles Times. It felt as though the whole world were reading these obscure blogs and repeating their talking points without questioning them.
When I walked down the hall, I saw groups of people clumped together talking animatedly, then watched as they grew silent when I approached. They'd squeak out a "Hi, Mary," as I trudged dejectedly past. It was sort of the journalistic equivalent of having toilet paper stuck to your shoe. I can't say that I blamed them or that I would have behaved any differently in their positions. Nothing like this had ever happened before to me or to anyone I knew of. What is journalistic etiquette for watching someone's story and career go up in flames? Everyone knew what was going on. Everyone knew it was going very badly. No one knew what to say.
Some people pitched in and tried to bail the water out of our sinking ship. I was touched by producer David Gelber's ideas and energy in trying to help. Steve Glauber lent moral support. People would appear in the office door and commiserate. Assistant producers offered to open up Andy Rooney's office and let us look at his collection of old typewriters. Everyone was desperate or depressed--or both.
Dan came over after the CBS Evening News and we talked about the need to do a story rebutting the attacks the following night. My team of researchers, associate producers, and assistants and I gathered information on IBM typewriters, on font styles, on peripheral spacing. We got lists of new document and computer analysts together. We arranged to do an on-camera interview with Marcel Matley, our original document examiner.
I left the building late with Roger Charles, the tenderhearted military consultant who had worked with me for years. Also on hand: Mike Smith, a dogged young researcher from Austin, Texas, who had long followed the Bush-Guard story.
If our demeanor the night before had been triumphant, on September 9 we were downright tragic. The three of us dragged our sad selves into the hotel and plopped down in the bar like limp hankies. I was too tense for small talk, but that has never actually stopped me from talking. So I continued to bray at Mike and Roger like a wounded wildebeest.
I was incredulous that the mainstream press--a group I'd been a part of for nearly twenty-five years and thought I knew--was falling for the blogs' critiques. I was shocked at the ferocity of the attack. I was terrified at CBS's lack of preparedness in defending us. I was furious at the unrelenting attacks on Dan. And I was helpless to do anything about any of it.
We vowed to work ourselves into a frenzy doing a great report on the Evening News the next night ... and we did. We put on a strong and reasoned defense. Maybe that was the problem. The people who had begun the attack on us were not interested in reason, other than the reason behind the whole assault--partisan politics.
Dan ended the report by asking that the president answer the longtime questions about his service in the National Guard. No one listened. No one wanted to ask the president anything other than what he thought about the CBS report. Everyone in the media wanted to cover CBS, not the National Guard story.
Our Friday Evening News report didn't make a whit of difference. Nothing we did mattered. We were shouting into a wind tunnel.
The points we made rebutting the bloggers' critiques were ignored. And each new blogging attack was picked up by other bloggers and the mainstream press and taken at face value.
Friday night, September 10, we suddenly found we had a new problem. The phone in the office rang at 7:30 P.M. When I picked it up, I recognized the voice of Gen. Bobby Hodges, the man who had corroborated the content of the documents before we aired our story.
I had been trying wildly to reach Hodges for three days, but with no luck. He said he had been out of town for a few days but had seen allthe coverage and was just calling to tell me that he, too, thought the documents were forgeries.
I was stunned. I had never had a source change his or her story on me before. In part, because key sources in our stories are usually videotaped. Once someone has appeared in an on-camera interview saying something, it's awfully hard for them to deny their actions. This was something much different for me. With horror, I realized I had no recording of what he had told me, no way to prove what he had said to me earlier. I felt sick. I read him the notes I had taken from our previous conversation on Labor Day, September 6. He admitted he had indeed said all those things but insisted that now he didn't think the memos were real. He said he had thought when he talked to me that they were hand-written and, besides, since the family of Jerry Killian, the purported author of the memos, had come out publicly to say they didn't think the memos were real, he was supporting the family.
Hodges said he didn't know that what he said to me was going to make such a difference, and he said he was angry that his corroboration would have been considered a key element in deciding whether to report the story. He was especially angry that in a Washington Post article an unnamed CBS executive had referred to Hodges's comments as a "trump card" in determining the truth of the memos.
After the Evening News, Dan came to my office and we talked together on the phone to Hodges. Dan was losing his voice. He had fought for and defended our story nonstop for two days. He was beat. And now we felt we had been terribly betrayed.
Hodges was a longtime Bush supporter, something that I felt made his corroboration all the more important when I got it on Monday night. Now, his support for the president made me doubt his recanting was anything more than the result of political pressure. But it was devastating to us. He had already spoken with other news outlets, telling them that he believed the documents were forged.
I begged him to do an on-camera interview with us as I had the first time we spoke. Hodges repeatedly said no. I believed if I could get him to sit down and talk, it would become clear that he did believe the memos were real. I think Hodges felt the same way, and he was unmovable in his refusal to meet with us or consider speaking on-camera.
Late that night, CBS News president Andrew Heyward showed up at the 60 Minutes building, something that I didn't see happen very often. I was summoned, along with Josh Howard, to join him in Betsy West's office. Betsy was on the phone, as she had been for thirty-six hours. Her shoes were off, her clothes were disheveled, and she was fighting to get someone on the other end of the line to listen to her. I believe she was talking with someone at ABC News, someone who was telling her that they were working hard on a series of stories on our catastrophe. She hung up defeated.
Andrew asked how many document analysts we could get together over the weekend to look at the documents with the idea of holding a news conference on Monday. He visualized a sea of analysts who would literally "stand behind the documents." I repeated the tired mantra that I had gone through with Andrew and every other CBS News executive time and time again. I told him that no decent analyst could say with 100 percent certainty that the documents were real. They were photocopies, not original documents. There was no ink or paper to test. We had come to confidence about the documents through analysts and our vetting of the documents and our meshing of the memos with the official record and the corroboration of the former commander of the unit. I told Andrew that no reputable analyst would give a complete assurance of authenticity or of fabrication, a point I had made clear from the beginning.
Andrew was frustrated. "But they have people who are doing that, Mary," he spit out. "And it's killing us. If the blogs are using people that are lousy analysts to make their case," Andrew said, "then let's get some lousy analysts of our own."
I couldn't believe it. That's not what reporting is supposed to be.
I dragged myself back to the hotel. In my room, the phone rang. It was Dan. "Have you eaten anything today?" he rasped. I hadn't. Of course I hadn't. In fact, I didn't remember the last time I had eaten. I was shaky and trembling and weak and too tired to sleep. He told me if I didn't order some soup that instant, he was going to call and ask someone to come up and force-feed me.
I ordered some broth and sipped it begrudgingly, sobbed through a phone call to my husband, and then spent the night leaping on and off the bed, checking the computer repeatedly to see what was online.What was The Washington Post running? How about the Los Angeles Times? What did The New York Times have in the morning?
Once again, it was bad. Now they were all including Hodges's recanting in their stories.
By the next morning, I felt used up and hurt. We had a conference call at 9:00 A.M. with our public relations people and Josh, Betsy, and Andrew. We agreed we were in deep trouble and tried to brainstorm ways to begin digging out of the mess.
Near the end of the call, Andrew yelled into the phone that "if someone fucked this up, they'll be phoning in from Alcatraz."
That was helpful, Andrew, a real rallying of the troops. Nothing like a vote of no confidence to help build your stamina for a long campaign.
I hung up and called Josh and told him I was worn out and worn down and angry at Andrew's outburst. I didn't need to hear that. None of us did.
I told Josh I wanted to go home for the weekend and he agreed. I called the hotel's front desk to tell them I was checking out. I needed to go home. I needed to be with someone who loved me. I missed Robert, my little boy. I needed my husband's good advice and strong support.
I sat glumly on the plane but eventually began to enjoy my first few hours of peace in what seemed like weeks. There were no ringing phones, no knocks on the door, no frantic faces, no messages that needed to be returned ASAP. I began to wish I could just keep flying, just keep going and going and not land for weeks or months until this whole thing had blown over.
I thought darkly about what former Clinton adviser Vince Foster had said in his suicide note, that in Washington "ruining people is considered sport." I could understand how being the subject of overwhelming attacks would make some people give up.
I knew that was not going to happen to me. But I had no idea what was ahead and I was terrified.
When the plane finally did touch down that night, Robert and Mark picked me up at the airport, hurrying to meet me and nearly holding me up as we walked back to our car. I lay down with my head in my little boy's lap as my husband drove us home. Robert stroked my hair andbabbled on about exciting events at school and about his plans to ace his next spelling test. I fell asleep before we got home, so grateful to be back, so relieved to be out of the storm, so happy to hear my son's little voice. It would be my last real sleep for weeks.
TRUTH AND DUTY. Copyright © 2005, 2006 by Mary Mapes. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.