Rather Ridiculous

By Charles Lane
Monday, September 24, 2007

I have obtained new documentary evidence regarding Dan Rather's relationship with his former bosses at CBS News.

Obviously, I cannot identify my source. But he told me during a collect call from Sofia, Bulgaria, that he has access to Rather's "personal files" and that his typewriter was built after 1966. To authenticate the document, I showed it to some of my kids' friends, and they said it was awesome.

Here, then, the letter -- written by Dan Rather and dated Nov. 31, 2006:

"Dear CBS News:

"My new career at HDNet is keeping me busier than a bordello at Mardis Gras.

"But I did want to take a moment to thank you for your kindness and consideration during my 44 years as the finest broadcast journalist any network ever had.

"Let's face it. At times I did or said things that some people, most of them partisan political operatives, considered unbecoming, ridiculous or even 'firing offenses.'

"In 1987, I walked off the set of the evening news, leaving you to fill several minutes of dead air, because you delayed the news to finish coverage of the U.S. Open tennis tournament. That came back to haunt us the next year, when then-Vice President George H.W. Bush mocked me about it. But you stood by me.

"In 2001, I accidentally gave a speech at a Democratic Party fundraiser in Austin. Later, I realized that some powerful and extremely well-financed forces think that journalists shouldn't help political parties raise money. For a minute there, the issue got hotter than a hamburger on a hickory fire. You guys put out a statement calling it an 'honest oversight,' and we rode it out together. Thanks.

"But what really made me gratefuller than a Pilgrim in November was the way CBS News handled my Sept. 8, 2004, broadcast of those fake documents -- you know, the ones that said President Bush finagled his way into the Texas Air National Guard during Vietnam and then skipped a Guard physical, etc., etc.

"You guys stood by me, and the report, until it became impossible to deny that it was a whopper, and then you let me make a dignified exit from 'CBS Evening News' several months later.

"Until I left the network in June 2006, you kept paying me a $6 million salary, even though I wasn't really doing much work.

"The nicest part, though -- the part that shows you are more compassionate than Mother Teresa in a 12-story leper colony -- is that after I apologized for the bogus report, you asked me to keep my mouth shut about it, even though I was itching to retract the apology.

"Thank you, CBS, thank you for saving me from myself.

"Courage, Dan."

Yes, there is another document making the rounds that suggests that Dan Rather is actually bitter at his former employers. I am referring to the 32-page "lawsuit" in which Rather purportedly accuses various chieftains at CBS of "coercing" him into a false apology for the National Guard broadcast and then muzzling him and starving him of airtime to please the White House.

Clearly, this "lawsuit" is a forgery -- and a pretty crude one at that.

No man in Rather's position would admit that he could be made to apologize for a story he believed was true. A straight-shooting newsman like Dan Rather would have resigned rather than obey an order to lie to the public.

No sensible person would allege that CBS's investigation of the National Guard story was both hopelessly biased because it was led by George H.W. Bush's former attorney general and that the investigation "exonerated" Rather.

No sane individual would start a legal battle that could result in his being deposed under oath about his own conduct at the network over 44 rocky years.

Finally, no one in his right mind would keep insisting that those phony documents are real and that the Bush National Guard story is true.

If there's one thing we've learned about Dan Rather, it is that he's a perfectly reasonable guy. Otherwise, CBS News would never have put him in the anchor's chair in the first place. And he sat there for 24 years.

The writer is a member of the editorial page staff. His e-mail address islanec@washpost.com.

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