CBS News and anchorman Dan Rather did not slander a California doctor nor display "a reckless disregard for the truth" in a 1979 segment of the popular TV news magazine "60 Minutes," a jury ruled in Los Angeles yesterday.
The verdict ended a three-week trial that received extraordinary press attention both for the First Amendment issues involved and the celebrity of the defendants.
Dr. Carl Galloway, a Lynwood, Calif., physician, lost his $4.5 million suit against CBS for damages to his personal and professional reputation when the jury voted 10 to 2 for CBS, which had linked Galloway to an insurance fraud scheme in an 18-minute "60 Minutes" segment called "It's No Accident" televised on Dec. 9, 1979. Yesterday, after the verdict was delivered, Galloway said he was "surprised" by it.
"I'm not sorry at all" about filing the suit, Galloway said. "I've talked to a lot of the public and they said, 'Look at what you're up against; you're up against Goliath.' " Galloway's attorney, Bruce Friedman, made no immediate comment to reporters milling in the hallway outside the courtroom.
But CBS attorney William Vaughn told reporters, "The verdict strikes a blow for the First Amendment," and Stephen Glauber, who produced the segment and was named in the suit, said, "Truth has power, and the jury saw what the truth was and voted for CBS News."
In a statement, CBS News characterized itself as "extremely pleased" and said, "From the outset, we were convinced that a dispassionate examination of the evidence would demonstrate clearly that the broadcast was fair and accurate." Rather, a correspondent for "60 Minutes" when the segment aired and now anchor of "The CBS Evening News," was in New York and could not be reached for comment but was described as "euphoric" by a CBS News executive.
CBS News President Van Gordon Sauter declined to comment beyond the statement. But ABC News President Roone Arledge said, "The jury's decision in this case was both appropriate and pleasing to those of us concerned with the vitality of investigative reporting."
Reuven Frank, president of NBC News, said, "I'm happy for CBS News. It was a difficult case."
When co-workers at CBS News learned of the decision, they gathered outside Rather's office, applauding and cheering until Rather appeared. He reportedly said, "Thank you. Let's get back to work." Rather himself had testified during the trial, and so TV viewers saw Rather on the witness stand--on CBS and on other networks.
They also saw correspondent Rather on the job in previously untelevised filmed "outtakes" not used in the original segment but secured and screened for the jury by Galloway's lawyer. When CBS News turned over the outtakes and did not resist the court order, there were cries of alarm in journalistic circles that the network complied too willingly to invasion of the newsroom.
But Robert Chandler, a CBS News senior vice president, said last night that while CBS News policy is to refuse to turn over outtakes in cases in which CBS is not the subject of the litigation, when CBS itself is the defendant, "you're going to want to use anything you can to help you prove your case."
Chandler said outtakes have also been released in conjunction with a $44.7 million libel suit filed against CBS by Lt. Col. Anthony Herbert over another "60 Minutes" segment, and the $130 million suit filed against CBS by Gen. William C. Westmoreland over the 1982 broadcast "The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam Deception."
In his closing, 3 1/2-hour argument to the jury, attorney Friedman said the outtakes proved that "60 Minutes," the most successful news broadcast in history, was merely "soap opera" staged for viewers' entertainment. "I have never seen a more flagrant example of distortions, misrepresentations and outright lies than this show was," Friedman told the jury.
But CBS counsel Vaughn told the jury, "If you reward Dr. Galloway with even a dollar, you will signal your willingness to restrain a free press."
Producer Glauber told reporters outside the courtroom yesterday that neither CBS nor "60 Minutes" had been on trial, but that "the truth" was. But as the case unfolded, it became a critical credibility test for CBS News, "60 Minutes," and "the media" in general. In spite of that, some CBS insiders feel media coverage of the case was hostile and unnecessarily harsh, and that Rather's luster provoked it.
"It's a great load off our minds," said "60 Minutes" senior producer Philip Scheffler of the verdict late yesterday. "We think we've been getting a raw deal in the press and columns, and I guess everybody feels pretty vindicated now."
Howard Stringer, executive producer of "The CBS Evening News," said he thought the story had been "overplayed" all along and said he was bitter over coverage of the case by The Los Angeles Times, "ABC News Nightline" and the Cable News Network, whose owner, Ted Turner, has frequently declared war on network news.
"ABC News Nightline" aired a report on the suit two weeks ago and was later criticized by CBS News for failing to include a pro-CBS point of view in the discussion and for neglecting to tell viewers that one participant, Accuracy in Media director Reed Irvine, had contributed $5,000 to the plaintiff.
Both "NBC Nightly News" and ABC's "World News Tonight" gave more time to the jury's verdict last night than did "The CBS Evening News." ABC and NBC included the story within the first 10 minutes of their newscasts; it did not appear on CBS until 21 minutes into the program. Rather referred to himself when delivering the story as "this correspondent."
If the jury had found for Galloway and against CBS, Stringer said he was prepared to go with a longer "reaction piece" to be filed by correspondent Jerry Bowen in Los Angeles. That piece would have included Bowen's attempt to interview Rather. And it might have included Rather's refusal to comment, Stringer said before the verdict was issued, adding, "I really don't know how we'll handle it, because there's no precedent for this, is there?"