Dan Rather, the quirky old news dog who has survived through multiple mergers and takeovers at CBS has today become an interesting symbol of a country at odds with itself, informed by a media unable to balance journalistic truth with the corrupting power that comes with broadcasting to millions.
A brilliant Sidney Blumenthal article published this week in Salon recaps the controversy surrounding Rather's $70 million dollar suit against CBS, suggesting their deals with the Bush administration sent him packing. Rather eventually came back swinging, newly alleging that CBS refrained from breaking the Abu Ghraib story to appease Bush/Rove, for example.
I find myself comparing Rather to outgoing President Dwight Eisenhower who warned the US in his farewell address that our government was prone to enter wars in order to enrich corporations with defense contracts. Eisenhower surely had some part to play in this but clearly wanted the American people to read between the lines and be wary - very, very wary.
Mr. Rather, in bringing this suit must do what Ike avoided - owning up to the part he played and spilling the beans in specifics. In a way, Rather might be likened to Sen. Larry Craig who originally pled guilty for his "bathroom" dealings and later claimed he was coerced. Mr. Rather's semi-admission of guilt while still employed for CBS was surely part of wrangling over how much crow he'd have to eat in exchange for continuing airtime.
But once abandoned, Rather back pedalled from his on-air "regrets" to make a larger point - that CBS was altering news-as-usual for the Bush administration and he'd kept mum about it. Now that he's talking, we see CBS may have buried the first Abu Ghraib exclusive. If they did so for White House favor, there should be an immediate criminal probe.
Formerly a pitbull, 60 Minutes has softballed the Bush administration for years. The influence coming in through multi-layered GE/Westinghouse/Infinity mergers is evidence of money men trying to turn CBS News into a the media arm of a large for-profit megaconglomerate - as has happened with the other networks.
As a long-respected senior newsman, Rather can tell us much about the internal struggles - it's time to hear the dirt and for Rather to play the part of America's conscience as someone who kept his mouth shut for power and money and has to now look in the mirror. Rather will have to explain away his earlier apology and come clean himself as he will be certainly slimed by CBS, now part of the military-industrial-Congressional-media complex scrubbing the news for Bush, just as Orwell foresaw, but 16 years later.
It's of little consequence today that Bush dodged the draft, went AWOL and lied about it later. But it would have likely swung the election had the story run on all networks without the disputed document. No other part of the larger story has been refuted, but the one letter in question, magnified and spun in perfected Rovian fashion, made the difference for the election, and for Rather's credibility and career. Some suggest Bush loyalists from inside CBS may have produced the letter to poison the otherwise tight story.
Where Blumenthal's article emphasized the corrupt bosses at CBS controlling Rather's moves, another piece by Truthout's William Rivers Pitt lumped Rather in with the crooks, resentful of the fact that Rather only came clean after he was canned. But Greg Palast's latest piece on the issue also published this week reminded us that he had the story first and had it right all along, only underscoring how his BBC broadcast and all the shouting he could possibly do meant very little in the US next to the influence of CBS News. Perhaps this shows why Rather fought so hard to keep his airtime, making deals with liars and crooks in the process.
It will be interesting to follow this law suit and see how down and dirty it gets. If nothing else, credit Rather for taking on Bush, CBS and the right, even if it's too late to save the country from a second Bush presidency. Let's see if things get shaken up at the networks as Rather faces his own complicity.
The long time face of CBS news, Rather represents how Americans each must find where our actions, borne out of materialism or self-interest have a negative impact on the rest of the world or our own future. Rather's worst crime might have been issuing his apology and taking the heat for using the document widely considered inauthentic - for many this put the issue to rest, which was the last thing he wanted to do - the story was right, but the cover-up was still expanding, thanks to his own bosses.