WASHINGTON—CBS News reporter Lee Cowan calls the Bush/National Guard phony documents scandal possibly “the lowest point” of Dan Rather’s career. But as Rather anchors his final edition of the CBS Evening News on Wednesday, the 24th anniversary of his taking the job, Accuracy in Media is reminding the public of another low point—how Rather was involved in o ne of the most notorious examples of communist disinformation appearing in the U.S. media. It occurred as President Reagan was pursuing policies designed to win the Cold War and defeat the Soviet “Evil Empire.”
Rather reported in a newscast on March 30, 1987 , that a Soviet publication had charged that an American military laboratory had developed the virus that caused the AIDS epidemic. He did not accompany this charge with any comment from the Pentagon or the State Department.
As AIM noted at the time, “The Soviet Communist officials in charge of propaganda activities must have been ecstatic. The Soviets had placed the charge in over 200 publications, as well as radio broadcasts, in 25 different languages. To get the charge aired on a major American television network was a real coup.”
The Soviets had used the AIDS charge against the U.S. to divert attention from their own biological weapons program. The KGB disinformation operation had been exposed by the U.S. State Department six months earlier. Eventually, the communists themselves admitted it was false. For example, in 1992, Yevgeni Primakov , former head of the KGB, admitted that “the KGB planted stories in the late 1980s which alleged that the HIV virus was the result of a Pentagon experiment.” Former KGB officer Oleg Gordievsky admitted the Soviet KGB role in spreading the AIDS charge against the U.S. in his 1990 book, The KGB – The Inside Story. Gordievsky called the charge a “fabrication” that “also took in some of the Western media.”
In contrast to the apology in the Memogate scandal, CBS News and Rather rebuffed AIM’s demands for a correction of the record. CBS News even refused to admit that Rather had made a mistake. In 1989, of course, with no thanks to Rather , the U.S. won the Cold War against the Soviets.
Accuracy In Media (AIM) is a non-profit, grassroots citizens watchdog of the news media that critiques botched and bungled news stories and sets the record straight on important issues that have received slanted coverage.