On CNN’s Larry King Live Thursday night, Dan Rather insisted that his $70 million lawsuit against CBS was an attempt to save “our democracy” from “big government interference and intimidation in news;” claimed once again that his 2004 60 Minutes story on President Bush’s National Guard service was correct “and I think most people know by now that it was correct;” and charged that CBS’s investigation was “a fraud. It was a setup.”
And when Larry King asked him about Peter Arnett — whose career at CNN ended over a fraudulent 1998 report alleging the U.S. murdered defectors and used nerve gas in Vietnam, and who was last seen making propaganda films for Saddam Hussein during the 2003 invasion of Iraq — Rather embraced him: “Peter Arnett is a great reporter. He was then and he is now.”
Key exchanges during last night’s Larry King Live. The full transcript is available here.
KING: Why are you suing?
RATHER: Two reasons, two core reasons. In no particular order — although I do think the most important reason is somebody sometime has got to take a stand and say democracy cannot survive, much less thrive, with the level of big corporate and big government interference and intimidation in news.
KING: In essence, you are saying that that network got rid of you -- copped out on the report, etc. Because of appealing to the Bush White House? Is that what you're saying, they were trying to appeal to the Bush White House?
RATHER: Yes is the short answer to that. But I think that they and others have been doing it to part of Washington's power structure long before them. And what I'm trying -- look, in my own wee small way — perhaps, I can't succeed at it, is to say people, whether you're Republican, Democrat, liberal, conservative — big government and big corporations have far too much influence and are intimidating, especially investigative reporting.
...[After showing a clip from the 2004 60 Minutes report]
KING: Are you sorry about that now?
KING: You think the report was correct?
RATHER: Yes. And I think most people know by now that it was correct.
King read Rather a quote from former 60 Minutes executive Josh Howard, who disputed Rather’s claim that he was simply the narrator on the National Guard story, suggesting Rather had “gone off the deep end”:
KING: Josh Howard, who resigned as executive producer of "60 Minutes" in the aftermath of the controversy, is quoted as saying this about you in "The Washington Post": "I think he's gone off the deep end. He seems to be saying he was just the narrator. He did every interview. He worked the sources over the phone. He was there in the room with the so-called document experts. He argued over everything in the script. It's laughable." Comment?
RATHER: I respect Josh Howard quite a bit. And I'd like to see the full context of it. But I will say this, to the business of he's off the deep end or something, I've never been clearer in my mind about anything -- I can't recall being clearer.
King eventually returned to the motivations for Rather’s lawsuit:
RATHER: I want to find out the truth.
KING: ...we'll never know the truth.
RATHER: Well, no, if they — if the truth comes out, if they acknowledge the truth...
KING: You mean if they offered you a financial package to settle, never going through that...
RATHER: A strictly financial package?
RATHER: Absolutely not. Not. No. Absolutely not.
RATHER: I do want to make a point, Larry, here, that somebody will look at it and say he's suing for $70 million. For me, it's not about the money. It is about this principle of what we're going to do with our democracy.
Referring to CBS’s investigation, which was led by former Associated Press chief Louis Boccardi and former U.S. Attorney General Richard Thornburgh. Rather singled out Thornburgh, a Republican, as evidence of CBS’s bias against him:
RATHER: There was this effort to scapegoat myself and others in the news division. We haven't even talked about this so- called alleged independent commission that investigated it....They spent months and they spent tens of millions of dollars-
KING: Was there a distinguished lawyer involved in that?
RATHER: A former attorney general of the United States, a good friend of the Bushes and a loyal Republican, Mr. Thornburgh, headed it. I don't have — it's nothing personal with him. But what this was, and the lawsuit alleges — and I think it can be shown — this was, in many ways, a fraud. It was a setup. It was designed-
KING: A fraud?
RATHER: Yes. It was designed to achieve a certain result so that the corporation would be exonerated.
KING: Are you saying Dick Thornburgh, former governor of Pennsylvania, former — participated in a fraud?
RATHER: That's what the record shows. That's what we allege.