Accuracy in Media

Former CBS news anchor Dan Rather appeared on Good Morning America yesterday to discuss his new book, Rather Outspoken, with host George Stephanopoulos. The book is being released today. In the interview, Rather stood firm in his claim that his report on President George W. Bush’s Texas Air National Guard service was true and blamed CBS for caving into pressure from the White House.

Stephanopoulos: And it seems like one of the things that most upset you that you write about in the book is that you felt that your team at CBS and its corporate ownership at Viacom didn’t back you up in that pursuit of the news and the truth.

Rather: Well, that was the situation, particularly the corporate—the very top corporate. You know, hard investigative reporting needs an ownership that doesn’t back down, doesn’t back up, and backs its reporters. And that had been the CBS News tradition—

Stephanopoulos: Even when mistakes are made, though?

Rather: Well, even—I’m not acknowledging mistakes were made—but even when mistakes are made, absolutely. Ben Bradlee with The Washington Post and the Watergate story, go right down through. And the tradition at CBS News had been, “Look, we go into investigative reporting together, we do it together, and we stick together the whole way through.” That had been the CBS News tradition. And we reported a true story. I’m not at CBS now because I and my team reported a true story. It was a tough story, a story a lot of people didn’t want to believe, and it was subjected to a terrific propaganda barrage to discredit it. But the facts are there—

Stephanopoulos: But there was no way to know the entire truth, is there, without all of the documents?

Rather: No, no. Well, on what story has anybody ever known the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? But we reported the truth, and that is that President Bush—later President Bush—when he was in National Guard service, he was at least AWOL. And we had a top general in the Army saying, on the record, he was a deserter. Now, everybody makes mistakes. I make some, President Bush obviously made some, but because we reported that story, they put heavy pressure on the corporate entity and the corporate entity bolted. But a lot this is in the book, you know, anybody—this happened—you know, I left, what, eight years ago—this happened eight years ago. So we go through the book in great detail. Anybody who’s interested can read—

Stephanopoulos: Right, I would just say one word. The Bush team would point out that he was honorably discharged, which at least raises questions about whether or not he had been a deserter. They, of course, deny that.

Stephanopoulos should have pointed out that CBS didn’t bolt on the story, but instead commissioned an independent panel that questioned the authenticity of the memos that Rather’s reporting relied on to make the false accusations about Bush’s National Guard service.

Rather is living in a fantasy world by acting as if the independent panel’s report didn’t exist and that he was the victim and not President Bush. In a previous post, I went into more detail about this, and linked to an AIM Special Report from a retired Air Force colonel very familiar with the facts of this story. While no one said that every word of Rather’s reporting was false, it is clear that his most significant accusations were false and based on phony documents that CBS knew, or should have known, were fake.

By doubling down on this story, he is only doing more damage to his reputation, instead of trying to repair it as most people in his situation would do.





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