Published for www.commentarymagazine.com, April 30, 2012
Dan Rather was once at the top of the journalistic universe, having replaced Walter Cronkite as the anchor of the “CBS Evening News” (when network news broadcasts still meant something). But then came a story meant to smear President George W. Bush, based on forged documents that were almost immediately revealed as such. Then (as this Daily Beast story recounts) came the Rather apology; the revelation that CBS News could no longer vouch for their credibility; the CBS-commissioned investigation faulting Rather and his top producer, Mary Mapes; and finally, the end of Rather’s career at CBS.
Now nearly 80 years old and hawking a new book, Rather Outspoken: My Life in the News, Rather insists the forged documents are accurate. “I believe them to be genuine. I did at the time, I did in the immediate aftermath of it, and yes, I do now.”
This claim is silly, as this 224-page Report of the Independent Review Panel makes clear. (While CBS’s independent panel report didn’t specifically take up the question of whether the documents were forgeries, it retained a document expert, Peter Tytell, who concluded that the documents in question were “not produced on a typewriter in the early 1970s and therefore were not authentic.”) Three years after the story, Rather filed a $70 million lawsuit against CBS and its parent company, Viacom, claiming he had been made a “scapegoat.” In 2009, a New York State Appeals Court said Rather’s $70 million complaint should be dismissed in its entirety, and that a lower court erred in denying CBS’s motion to throw out the lawsuit.
What appears to have happened is that Rather cannot emotionally or psychologically accept that the Bush National Guard story was built on lies, which ended up destroying his career. And so he has become a desperate, embittered man, frantically trying to vindicate his name, unable to see that his efforts merely remind us what a pitiable figure he has become.