Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Rather Not

“This is the way my mind works, small as it is,” he says. “I settle on something and say, ‘That’s where I stand.’”

“Where I fault myself – and I fault myself on a lot of things – is that for the longest time I just refused to believe what my eyes saw and my ears were hearing.”

These are the veteran newsman’s most illuminating statements made to Joe Hagan in “Dan Rather’s Last Big Story” (“New York” magazine, 12/3/07). While the former anchor was referring to being duped by his corporate higher-ups at CBS, these quotes go a long way to explaining how he got into the “Rathergate” mess that led to his downfall in the first place. As I noted in my letter to “Vanity Fair” (published in the February 2006 issue) in response to “The 60 Minutes Takedown,” a portrait of the producer Mary Mapes who set this whole sordid business in motion:

“Mapes chose as her No. 1 source Bill Burkett, an unreliable, anti-Bush, anti-National Guard former cattle rancher, then had the audacity to fault the subsequent CBS investigative panel for its “rigid, legalistic ideas of how reporting should work…Dick Thornburgh would have found Mark Felt an inadequate source.” To compare her cattle rancher to Woodward and Bernstein’s loyal FBI man is shocking enough, but to forget that Felt was only one of a huge number of reliable sources is unethical journalism.”

This is no conspiracy, as Rather still contends. This is a case of Rather being blinded by his loyalty to Mapes in a power dynamic not unlike the one between Rudy Guiliani and his disgraced, former police commissioner Bernard Kerik. Indeed, the Jayson Blair scandal at “The New York Times” brought down both Howell Raines and Gerald Boyd. This wasn’t an evil corporate plot. This is what happens to bosses who don’t weed out shoddy reporters. If Rather expects to be vindicated through private investigators and labyrinthine lawsuits, he really is “tilting at windmills.”

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