Rather Strikes Back
Thursday, September 20, 2007; 8:56 AM
I was extremely surprised by Dan Rather's lawsuit yesterday, but not as stunned as the CBS people I called, who just simply could not believe it.
No one was shocked that Rather is still mad at CBS -- he made that clear when he left the network last year, and more recently when he took that swipe at his old show being tarted up under Katie Couric.
No one was shocked that Rather still wants to argue about Memogate -- he's made clear in a number of appearances that he still thinks the Bush/National Guard story was right, even if it wasn't fully nailed down.
No one was shocked that Rather thinks big corporations such as CBS aren't foursquare behind aggressive journalism -- he's said that a thousand times, even while he was on the CBS payroll.
But that the man who succeeded Walter Cronkite, who was the face of CBS News for 25 years, would turn around and sue, rather than moving on with his life -- that was one heck of an eye-opener. For Rather is not just taking his old bosses to court, he is reopening all the wounds from that National Guard story, which even his friends would tell you was not his finest hour.
Here is my report:
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.