CBS News anchor Dan Rather, on the witness stand today undergoing cross-examination in a $30 million slander suit against himself and the network, defended a disputed "60 Minutes" segment and insisted that "I believed then, and I believe now, that it's a hell of a story."
The slander suit was brought by Dr. Carl A. Galloway, a physician linked to an insurance fraud ring by a 1979 "60 Minutes" episode titled "It's No Accident." Galloway claims that his signature on a phony medical report was forged.
Rather spent most of the day under cross-examination by Galloway's attorney, Bruce A. Friedman, and seemed tenser than he had yesterday when he was responding to questions from his own attorney. Friedman today did not touch on the legitimacy of Galloway's signature, but spent most of his time asking questions that dealt with Rather's state of mind during the preparation of the report.
Often, one question would be asked in various forms time and again. For instance, Friedman asked Rather the purpose of the second visit made to a clinic by an investigator working with CBS. (It was at this clinic, where Galloway was briefly employed, that CBS obtained the phony medical report). Rather answered that the purpose was "to find out what happened inside the clinic."
Friedman: "What do you mean by 'what happened at the clinic'?"
Rather: "Mr. Friedman, I don't understand."
Friedman again asked what Rather meant by "what happened at the clinic."
Rather: "What went on in the clinic."
Friedman: "What do you mean, 'What went on'?"
Rather: "What happened."
After one such exchange, Rather said, "Mr. Friedman, I want to be responsive to your question."
"Then please do," Friedman shot back.
Friedman appeared to score some points concerning a woman who confessed in an on-air interview that she had participated in an insurance racket. "60 Minutes" viewers saw her first deny and then admit her participation. A voice-over by Rather said that her story had been broken down "after some tough questioning" by Milton Crawford, an investigator who worked with CBS on the "It's No Accident" segment.
The impression was left that the hard questioning came during the taped interview, but Rather acknowledged today that the questioning had in fact been done three days before, at which time the woman had given Crawford a signed statement.
Friedman also dealt exhaustively with an interview Rather did with an attorney who had been involved with insurance frauds, and whether CBS had edited his answer to match his question. On the show, Rather had asked the attorney if he were to be an attorney specializing in such frauds, could he make a quarter-million or a half-million dollars a year.
For the benefit of the cameras, Rather asked that question four times. The attorney once answered "Easily." Twice, he said "Yes." Once he replied, "So long as you were successful." The aired segment used one of the "yes" answers.
Under repeated questioning, Rather insisted he thought the editing reflected the answer accurately, and finally said to Friedman from the witness stand, "I don't know what any of this has to do with Dr. Galloway. But I know this: We cut that interview honestly and fairly . . ."