Dan Rather Sues CBS, Seeking To 'Restore His Reputation'

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 20, 2007

In an extraordinary move that reflects the depth of his resentment toward his former network, Dan Rather sued CBS yesterday, charging that he was made a "scapegoat" for a discredited 2004 story about President Bush's National Guard record because CBS wanted to "pacify the White House."

CBS management "coerced" the veteran news anchor "into publicly apologizing and taking personal blame for alleged journalistic errors in the broadcast," says the $70 million suit, which also names Sumner Redstone, chief executive of the network's then-parent company, Viacom; CBS Chairman Les Moonves; and former CBS News president Andrew Heyward.

Several former colleagues said they were baffled by the move. "I think he's gone off the deep end," said Josh Howard, who was forced to resign as executive producer of "60 Minutes II" after CBS retracted the story. "He seems to be saying he was just the narrator.

"He did every interview. He worked the sources over the phone. He was there in the room with the so-called document experts. He argued over every line in the script. It's laughable."

Rome Hartman, a former executive producer of "CBS Evening News" who now works for the BBC, said: "It's got to be about this lasting sense of hurt and pride. I was flabbergasted. I just don't get it."

Rather's lawyer, Martin Gold, said last night: "Dan is bringing this lawsuit to restore his reputation. He's not doing this for the money," he added, saying that Rather would donate most of any court award to journalistic causes.

After serving as "CBS Evening News" anchor for a quarter-century, Rather agreed to relinquish the chair in November 2004, weeks before an outside panel criticized him and top network executives for airing a badly flawed story charging that Bush had received favorable treatment from the Texas Air National Guard in the early 1970s. He said at the time that he was stepping down voluntarily, but says in the lawsuit that CBS had "terminated" his anchor duties the day after Bush was reelected.

Rather was shifted to "60 Minutes," where he had a part-time workload. When CBS refused to renew his contract last year, Rather accused the network of failing to live up to its contractual obligations and offering him little more than an office if he were to continue.

CBS brushed off the suit, which alleges fraud and breach of contract, with a single sentence. "These complaints are old news, and this lawsuit is without merit," spokesman Dana McClintock said.

Rather, 75, who now hosts a weekly program on HDNet, a high-definition channel owned by Dallas billionaire Mark Cuban, says in the suit that CBS's actions "have cost him significant financial loss and seriously damaged his reputation."

The debacle over the National Guard story, which the suit says became known as "Rathergate," turned on 30-year-old memos said to have been written by Bush's late squadron commander. Several newspapers, including The Washington Post, and conservative bloggers gathered evidence that the documents were unlikely to have been typed on government typewriters of that era.

Several document experts hired by CBS said later that they had not authenticated the memos, as the network originally claimed, and the commander's former secretary said she did not type them. The source who gave CBS the documents, Bill Burkett, initially said he got them from a fellow National Guardsman. But Burkett later admitted he had lied to the network and could not establish that the papers came from the commander's files.

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