Dan Rather toldThe Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz in a telephone interview that by filing his $70-million wrongful dismissal suit against CBS, he is fighting for “the red, beating heart of our democracy,” journalism.
Here’s how Kurtz describes Rather’s beef in a nutshell:
[H]e 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.
Jeff Bercovici, a columnist at Conde Nast’s struggling business magazine, Portfolio, contends “the 32-page complaint reflects worse on the former anchor than the Memogate saga itself ever did.” Bercovici says the suit is “riddled with logical inconsistencies” and “is evidence of a man desperate to have it both ways”:
As anchor and managing editor of CBS Evening News for 24 years, he claims credit for the broadcast’s many awards and triumphs. Yet when it comes to the disputed Air National Guard documents, he reverts to the defense that he was too busy covering Bill Clinton’s heart surgery and Hurricane Frances to pay them much attention.
I wonder: Had the National Guard story won a Peabody, would Rather have insisted it belonged to everybody else but him?
Kurtz reports that his former colleagues are “baffled” by Rather’s claim of being an uninvolved bystander, just reading words other people wrote off the teleprompter:
“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.”
While Rather’s ex-colleagues think he’s lost his mind, Los Angeles Times reporter Mary McNamara, for one, thinks he’s lost his edge. Writing about Rather’s appearance on CNN’s “Larry King Live,” she pointedly advises Rather to “get better writers” if he is “going to set himself up as our last defense against corporate corruption of news organizations.” She notes that the interview consisted largely of “boilerplate,” and that Rather was “verbose, seemed at a loss for real talking points, lapsing instead into self-indulgent and maddening asides rather than sticking to the story.” With a final twist of the knife, McNamara concludes, “you’d think a man with as many years in front of the camera could do a little better than that.”
The smartest analysis of Rather’s suit, in The Stiletto’s opinion, is offered by MediaPost editor-at-large Diane Mermigas, who makes the case that both he and CBS are in a “time warp”:
It’s sadly evident the lawsuit is a byproduct of both Rather and CBS clinging to old-line value systems and economics that are being dismantled by new always-on, interactive media.
The marquee news anchor, like the network’s self-absorbed half-hour nightly network newscast, is an anachronism in an era when the connected consumer wants the news on-demand and, increasingly, online. …
You can hardly blame Rather for pursuing the same line of passé thinking in his lawsuit, as if the old broadcast TV network value system that gave him star power was still in place.