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Think Again: CBS and Dan Rather -- Doing the Right's Dirty Work

Mar 18, 2010 | Updated May 25, 2011

Crossposted with the Center for American Progress. With Mickey Ehrlich.

Last week, a New York appeals court dismissed Dan Rather's lawsuit against CBS. Rather contends that the network violated his contract by giving him insufficient airtime on "60 Minutes" after forcing him to step down as anchor of the "CBS Evening News" in March 2005. He also says the network committed fraud by commissioning a "biased" and incomplete investigation of a "60 Minutes" broadcast in order to "pacify the White House." The broadcast presented as authentic documents from the Air National Guard showing George W. Bush went AWOL, which CBS aired less than two months before the 2004 presidential election.

Coverage of the decision in the major dailies, however, focused exclusively on the ironic disintegration of the relationship between the network and the former anchorman. Three articles appearing about the court's decision each closed with earnestly sober quotations from CBS employees about the futility of Rather's case:

The New York Times: "'Dan was a great anchor,' Mr. Briskman [CBS chief counsel] said. 'I hate the whole thing. The whole situation is pathetic. To have to fight Dan Rather is pathetic. I really wish the whole thing would just go away.'"

The Washington Post: "Jeff Fager, executive producer of '60 Minutes,' told the Los Angeles Times in August, 'It's hard to watch' Rather's never-ending legal fight.

'It's like he is in some paranoid nightmare where everybody is out to get him. We're all witnessing the poor guy thrashing around, tormented. ... I can't for the life of me understand why he's doing this, how he could turn such a storied career into this train wreck,' added Fager, who apparently got to know Rather not at all during their years working together."

The Associated Press: "General counsel Louis Briskman said that action 'is technically still pending, but it's hanging by a thread.'"

These quotes, coming as they do from people on the CBS payroll, attempt to portray Rather as some crazy old grandpa who can't get used to the idea that he's been put out to pasture. What's more significant, however, is the manner in which they obscure the major questions about CBS's conduct during the so-called "Memogate" scandal that could be answered by the Rather lawsuit.

You can read the rest of Eric Alterman and Mickey Ehrlich's analysis in their recent article, "Think Again: CBS and Dan Rather--Doing the Right's Dirty Work

Eric Alterman is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and a Distinguished Professor of English at Brooklyn College. He is also a Nation columnist and a professor of journalism at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. His seventh book, Why We're Liberals: A Handbook for Restoring America's Most Important Ideals, was recently published in paperback. He occasionally blogs at http://www.thenation.com/blogs/altercation and is a regular contributor to The Daily Beast. Mickey Ehrlich is a freelance writer and an English teacher at Kingsborough Community College.