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Discussing His Lawsuit Against CBS, Dan Rather Is Sticking to His Story

In 2004, Dan Rather, then anchor of CBS News, talks about a controversial report that President Bush got favorable treatment in the National Guard.
In 2004, Dan Rather, then anchor of CBS News, talks about a controversial report that President Bush got favorable treatment in the National Guard. (Cbs Via Associated Press)

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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 21, 2007

He's not giving up. He feels he has been wronged. He wants to prove it. And he is determined to stick it to CBS executives in the process.

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"The only punishment they understand is the money," Dan Rather said yesterday, explaining why he filed a $70 million lawsuit this week against the network he called home for 44 years.

He said he hired "a team of people," with "money out of my own pocket," to investigate CBS's handling of the story that led to his downfall as anchor. And he still believes in the accuracy of that story -- that George W. Bush received favorable treatment from the National Guard -- even though CBS concluded it could not authenticate the 30-year-old documents involved.

"I'm surprised someone in government hasn't said, 'We have a wartime president whose military records are missing, can't be found. Let's use the power of government to find out exactly what happened,' " Rather said.

Many of his friends think he has lost it, that he has allowed his resentment at Leslie Moonves and other CBS executives who sent him packing last year to overwhelm his good judgment. They use words like "self-destructive" and "tragedy." They believe he is engaging in revisionist history, forgetting that the network doggedly backed him until its lines of defense crumbled, that its own document experts said they had warned the story's producers that the purported papers of Bush's late squadron commander could not be verified.

But Rather says he is fighting for what he called "the red, beating heart of our democracy," journalism.

"The story was true," Rather said. "The documents, I still believe them to be true. I believed them to be true at the time."

In a lengthy phone conversation, the 75-year-old journalist sounded consumed by the details of his case and his conviction that CBS abandoned him. He offered no proof that the network sacrificed him as a "scapegoat," as the lawsuit charges, to mollify the White House.

"Well, I'd like to gather more evidence. . . . One way to find out is to put people under oath," Rather said.

The closest he comes to acknowledging any flaws on his part is to say, "I've never said we did the story perfectly. I've never said I performed perfectly."

One problem facing Rather, who now works for the tiny cable channel HDNet, is that some of what he says now is at odds with what he said in 2004, when his "60 Minutes II" story caused an uproar at the peak of the presidential campaign.

Rather personally apologized on the "CBS Evening News" 12 days after the story aired. But yesterday he said: "I didn't want to apologize. I never apologized for what was in the story, the record of President Bush."


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