Former CBS News anchor Dan Rather filed a $70 million lawsuit against his old network on Wednesday, reopening the controversy over a discredited report on President Bush’s National Guard service during the Vietnam war. In the suit, Rather accused CBS of forcing him out of his job two years ago to “pacify the White House.”
Rather’s former colleagues said they were shocked that the former anchor would say that he was in no way responsible for what he called “alleged errors” in the report, which relied on information unverifiable documents. “I think he’s gone off the deep end,” said Josh Howard, the former CBS 60 Minutes II executive producer who was also forced out after CBS retracted the story. “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.”
Come on, said former TV news correspondent James Moore in The Huffington Post. Everyone knows CBS was “under huge economic and political pressure” to shed its reputation as a liberal network, and canning Rather was the easy way out. If he made mistakes, OK. He was just seeking facts “we’ll never get" from Bush. If the president had just come clean, this controversy would have died long ago.
Rather could have nipped this controversy in the bud, too, said Jeff Jarvis on his BuzzMachine blog, by not being “an egotistical fool.” He still refuses to take responsibility for “muffing” the story that ruined his credibility, and that of CBS. He reported a story based on phony documents. Would it kill him to admit he goofed? “Poor, pathetic Dan. He still doesn’t know the frequency.”
Why in the world would Dan want to revive “Rathergate”? said Byron York in National Review Online. “The affair seemed over.” America was ready to move on and forget about the most humiliating moment of the man’s career. Maybe now the public will learn more about how CBS let the report on the air, and what Rather’s role really was.
"Whatever its legal merits," said the Los Angeles Times (free registration) in an editorial, Rather's lawsuit "dispels the myth of the omniscient news anchor." By insisting he was "out of the loop," he's only inviting "ridicule."
Even Rather’s supporters admit the report wasn’t “his finest hour,” said Howard Kurtz in The Washington Post (free registration required). But he “clearly intended to make a splash with the suit.” Why else would he have agreed to appear on "Larry King Live”?