Newsman Dan Rather Sues CBS

Rather vs. CBS

A $70 million lawsuit filed by Dan Rather alleges CBS botched the aftermath of a discredited story about President Bush's military service to curry favor with the administration. Rather, 75, was removed from his CBS Evening News post in March 2005.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

He's so closely associated with his former network that you still want to call him CBS newsman Dan Rather. But Rather is long gone from CBS and now he has filed a lawsuit against his former employer. Rather left his anchor chair, then the network, after apologizing for a botched 2004 report on President Bush's military service during the Vietnam War.

NPR's David Folkenflik is covering this story.

And David, why would he sue now?

DAVID FOLKENFLIK: Well, of course, on all kind of civil actions like this is, in a certain point there's going to be a statute of limitation that kicks in. It's a little unclear exactly when that deadline hits. It's usually three to five years, but as you'll recall he - you know, the infamous story that actually took place was in September of 2004 - three years ago - and then he, you know, slunk off into the night, as he feels, prematurely - and says very much, pushed out by CBS, and not on his own time frame.

INSKEEP: Well, let's review what is at issue here. We're talking about some documents that were used to try to prove a case against President Bush that were found to be forgeries. Rather, if I can summarize this very briefly, he says he was just reading a script. Other people did the work. He was forced to spread himself too thin and run off to cover a hurricane when he could have been checking out this story. He says he was forced to step down because of political pressure. Is any of this plausible?

FOLKENFLIK: I mean, a lot of this is plausible. A lot of it does not exactly reflect wonderfully on Mr. Rather himself. After all, you know, when Dan Rather, or any of the anchors, presents a report on the air and gets the kudos and gets the awards, he's there basking in the light, you know. To simply say, well, I only narrated it. It is essentially to say I'm a newsreader, I'm not the active muscular journalist that I present you to be.

When you say, he spread himself too thin, in fact, you know, his multimillion-dollar contract was maintain at a time that his ratings had really declined. One of the ways he helped justify that was by amortizing that salary, if you will, across the number of the shows - not only being the managing editor and anchor of the "Evening News" but also reporting for "48 hours" and reporting for "60 Minutes" too, which was on the air at that time. This really meant he had far scanter involvement in some of these reports than he would have liked you to believe at that time.

INSKEEP: So, what does all this mean for CBS?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, this is, you know, like a real punch to the solar plexus. I mean, CBS ,if you recall, you know, had been in some ways able to extricate itself from this ongoing question of whether the network, and particularly Mr. Rather, was biased against conservatives and President Bush, by shedding him. You know, this had been a question about Rather, really, since being a White House reporter of President Nixon, a question about Mr. Rather at a time when he'd really challenged the president's father, President George H.W. Bush. And this dragged CBS into that, you know. They'd also paid Katie Couric some, you know, call it 70-plus million dollars over five years as a way of trying to change the subject. And here they are again, a botched report, an angry anchor, a guy forced to step down.

INSKEEP: Who wants his own $70 million.

FOLKENFLIK: Exactly.

INSKEEP: David Folkenflik is NPR's media correspondent.

David, thank you very much.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet.

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