Dan Rather's White Whale
Grove, Lloyd, Newsweek
Byline: Lloyd Grove
He's changed stations. But his fight with CBS will never die.
Dan Rather just won't let it go.
Nearly eight years after his fabled career at CBS News imploded like a death star over the notorious George W. Bush/Texas Air National Guard segment on 60 Minutes Wednesday, he can't stop combing the debris for shards of vindication.
"I have a story to tell from my point of view," he says about his new book, Rather Outspoken: My Life in the News, which roasts network management for its "spineless" behavior during the Bush episode; takes potshots at his successor in the CBS Evening News anchor chair, Katie Couric, as a purveyor of "News Lite"; and settles scores with former colleagues who, as he writes, "after pretending to be friends for all those years, stealthily snuck around giving anonymous newspaper quotes and otherwise scheming to put the dirk in deep when I was down."
The Sept. 8, 2004, Bush segment and its use of dubious documents to bolster the case that the 43rd president benefited from family connections and then went AWOL during his Vietnam-era stint in a "champagne unit" of the guard, plus Rather's subsequent lawsuit against the network he served for 44 years--24 of them as anchor and managing editor of CBS's flagship news program--account for a fourth of the book. Rather initially dug in his heels during the firestorm that accompanied his damning report on a sitting president two months before his reelection. But he ultimately apologized for airing widely debunked photocopies of purported memos critical of young Bush's performance, saying CBS News could no longer vouch for their authenticity.
A CBS-commissioned investigation of the disaster faulted Rather and his top producer, among others, for their misplaced reliance on a dubious source and their sloppy vetting of the questionable documents. Five news executives and producers lost their jobs in the aftermath.
But these days Rather insists the memos were real. "I believe them to be genuine," he tells Newsweek, holding forth in his corner office at his weekly HDNet magazine program, Dan Rather Reports, in a musty old building off Times Square. "Nobody has ever proven that the documents were not what they purported to be. …