Barbara Walters to Dan Rather: You're a 'Great Journalist... No Matter What CBS Says'

"You know what, you've been a great journalist for 44 years," The View host Barbara Walters gushed to Dan Rather at the close of a softball interview on May 23 about his new memoir, "Rather Outspoken."

"No matter what CBS says!" an excited co-host Joy Behar interjected. Yes, "no matter what CBS says," Walters agreed of the former anchor/managing editor of the CBS Evening News, who was fired from the Tiffany network for running stories on a discredited phony memo that alleged President George W. Bush was often AWOL when he should have showed up for training exercises when serving in the Air National Guard.


Rehashing his famous, tired "fake but accurate" defense, Rather complained that the discredited memo was a "camouflage" and a "smokescreen" to attack himself and producer Mary Mapes, adding:

It's a fact -- it's a proven fact that young President Bush -- younger George Bush, he got in the National Guard to avoid -- possibility of going to Vietnam because of his father's influence. That's a fact. It's also a fact that he disappeared for more than a year when he was supposed to be flying for the National Guard. Those aren't even disputed. Now, those who didn't like the story attacked the story on the documents. I believe the documents then. I believe in them now. And nobody's ever proven them to be false.

Asked later in the interview about whether there's a media bias, Rather predictably answered that there wasn't, citing as evidence the fact that some liberals have complained Rather isn't liberal enough:

There a plenty of people on the left who think we have a conservative bias particularly because we work for these large corporations. Is there some bias? Of course there is. There’s bias in life.

Co-host Joy Behar then asked Rather whether he himself is liberal. The former CBS anchor denied it, going back to his "I'm an objective journalist" shtick -- even though he had just admitted that political bias is inevitable in the media! -- (emphasis mine):

I'm an independent. Fiercely independent. When it comes to politics, I tend to vote for character, I've voted for presidents of both parties. But I think the main thing that the public needs to understand, is that we need some people in journalism who try to be whether we succeed or not to be honest brokers of information in so far as it’s humanly possible. To set aside your biases, and say look, folks, I'm out here covering a war, or covering a disaster, or covering a political malfeasance, and I'm trying to give it to you straight. And that’s shrunk a lot in my lifetime.

Insofar as it's humanly possible, no one -- in the media nor the Pentagon -- has been able to confirm the authenticity of the Bush National Guard memos, and yet "fiercely independent" Dan Rather stubbornly chooses to believe they are real documents. And even if they aren't real, that doesn't matter because Rather has decided it's an undisputable fact that George W. Bush entered service in the Guard solely to avoid Vietnam. We're to believe Dan Rather knows intimately the mind and heart of the former president and with it his motivations for his actions as a 20-something.

"That dog won't hunt," a folksy Dan Rather might say if he could hear himself and evaluate such poppycock objectively. Unfortunately no one, not even veteran journalist Barbara Walters, did that for Rather in this interview.

For the full transcript, courtesy of MRC news analysis intern Jeffrey Meyer, read below:

ABC
The View
May 23, 2012
11:25 a.m. EDT


BARBARA WALTERS: So let's discuss the controversy because, in the book, you discuss the investigation you did in 2004. CBS had done an investigation of Abu Ghraib and it made headlines. And you then follow that up, questioning, I’m going to read this, how President George W. Bush handled his National Guard service in the 1970s. The story included documents as sources that could not be verified, including claims that the president didn't show up for national guard service and so forth and got favorable treatment. Okay. Eventually, this story led to your dismissal because you couldn't verify said CBS the documents. Do you still stand by that story?

DAN RATHER: I still stand by that story. And the documents were a camouflage. They were a smokescreen to attack us. It's a fact -- it's a proven fact that young President Bush -- younger George Bush, he got in the National Guard to avoid -- possibility of going to Vietnam because of his father's influence. That's a fact. It's also a fact that he disappeared for more than a year when he was supposed to be flying for the National Guard. Those aren't even disputed. So it was a true story. Now, those who didn't like the story attacked the story on the documents. I believe the documents then. I believe in them now. And nobody's ever proven them to be false. Now, it's fair to say, maybe those who didn't like the story -- maybe they didn't do everything they should be. But the central point is, I lost my job, and other good pros lost their job because we reported a true story. And what happened, is the corporate structure that owns, of course, CBS News, caved to pressure from the Bush Administration.

WALTERS: Big accusation there, but there was an investigation and what they sort of did was they didn't exactly fire, you, they put you on "60 Minutes" and didn’t use you. They kind of pushed you out.

RATHER: They ousted me for a while and then suggested that I go.

WALTERS: And your career at CBS was over?

RATHER: RIGHT.

ELIZABETH HASSELBECK: Then, in 2007, you filed a $70 million lawsuit against CBS and your old bosses after they let you go. There were many including your wife who tried to tell you not to pursue this case. It ended up being thrown out by the courts. You always said though it wasn’t about the money. It was about...

RATHER: It wasn’t about the money. I said going in whatever money I was going to get I knew it was against the grain. Odds against. But if I was to make any money out of it, it would go to some investigative reporting foundation. It was never about the money it was trying to get at the truth. And I feel good about the lawsuit. We did very well in the lower court. But just before we were to go to trial, the appellate court said, no, it can't do that. We found out a lot of things in the lawsuits because we could get people sworn under oath with depositions and discovery. Such things as the President of CBS News was taking orders from the chief lobbyist from Viacom, the corporation. Saying this is what you need to do to please the Bush Administration.

WALTERS: He's no longer there, by the way.

RATHER: That President of CBS News is no longer there. Now as a 44-year employee of CBS News I never would have believed that was possible, that the President of the news division was working in concert with the chief lobbyist for a corporation. I think it speaks a lot about what’s happened to news in my lifetime and yours and why everybody should care about it.

WALTERS: I mean these are very strong accusations that you're making. So what are you saying about news?

RATHER: Well, news has become too corporatized, too politicized and too trivialized. And by the way these are not just accusations These are proven facts that that’s what the president of the news division did evidenced by his emails which we got in the lawsuit.

HASSELBECK: Are those investigations going on say in times and administrations prior to the Bush administration? And is this something you’d pursue now in making sure that those things in your mind don't happen again in terms of media? What is the responsibility then on your part?

WALTERS: I have a lot of responsibility, and I've been at this a long time and I'm not perfect. I've made my mistakes had my flaws. Did it happen in previous administrations? No question that it did. But here’s the point. It’s gotten worse. Here's what I hope people understand, we all believe in a free and independent, fiercely independent and necessary press, the red beating heart of freedom and democracy. Now what's happened the corporatizing of our democracy with banks, with insurance companies and with media companies is much farther along than the public generally knows. There's only about one fourth of this book that deals with what we've been talking about. But that's the point, that's the thread that weaves through the book. That and I think...(not able to understand)

JOY BEHAR: Some conservatives say that the media has a liberal bias. Do you agree with that?

RATHER: No. There a plenty of people on the left who think we have a conservative bias particularly because we work for these large corporations. Is there some bias? Of course there is. There’s bias in life.

BEHAR: Are you a liberal yourself?

RATHER: No.

BEHAR: You’re not.

RATHER: I'm an independent. Fiercely independent. When it comes to politics, i tend to vote for character, I've voted for presidents of both parties. But I think the main thing that the public needs to understand, is that we need some people in journalism who try to be whether we succeed or not to be honest brokers of information in so far as it’s humanly possible. To set aside your biases, and say look, folks, I'm out here covering a war, or covering a disaster, or covering a political malfeasance, and I'm trying to give it to you straight. And that’s shrunk a lot in my lifetime.


BEHAR: Doesn’t get ratings that’s why.

HASSELBECK: How do you deal with that though going into this election season. What's your word to the media now? News organizations?

RATHER: Well, they don't need my advice. The bigger story in this election, particularly since it's going to be a $3 billion presidential election, the main story is who gives what money to whom expecting to get what when a candidate is elected. That's the spine of coverage or should be in this election.


HASSELBECK: Be it Hollywood or corporations, we should look at both right?

RATHER: Or unions or what have you.

WALTERS: I want to ask you something that’s a little aside, I should say by the way that you are now host and managing editor of Dan Rather Reports it airs on HD Network. Not a lot of people see it but you’re out there. Fighting away.

RATHER: You know Barbara I like you, I've always had a passion for it. Thanks to Mark Cuban the entrepreneur out in Dallas, we put on this program which specializes in investigative reports and international reporting. I couldn’t be happier.

WALTERS: I want to ask you about one of the most revered figures in years. And that's Walter Cronkite. You write very nice things about him, but there is a new book that says that Walter Cronkite, it’s written by Douglas Brinkley, by the way, who’s a very respected journalist. And he claims that the two of you had a very stormy relationship and that Cronkite didn't like you very much, Dan.

WALTERS: Well, it wasn't stormy on my side of things. That I have never said anything publicly or privately that was derogatory about Walter Cronkite, and I’m not going to say so now. I have no argument with Douglas Brinkley who is a great historian and a great researcher. I haven't read the book. I have read some of the reports about the book. But I prefer to remember whatever the facts turn out to be, I prefer to remember the times when Walter and I -- I was working for him, I idolized him. He was a mentor to me.

WALTERS: You took his place.

BEHAR: That’s why.

RATHER: Well, nobody takes Walter Cronkite's place. I did succeeded him. As far as Walter is concerned, a great journalist, great broadcaster and a great man.

WALTERS: You know what, you've been a great journalist for 44 years.

BEHAR: No matter what CBS says.

WALTERS: No matter what CBS says.

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is the Managing Editor for NewsBusters