ABC Fawns Over Discredited Dan Rather: Hypes the 'Legendary' Newsman's Pursuit of 'Truth'

George Stephanopoulos and the reporters at Good Morning America did not treat Dan Rather like a discredited journalist who disgraced CBS with faked documents. Instead, Rather was extolled as a "legendary newsman," and a "news legend." Those two terms were used four times on Monday.

Stephanopoulos interviewed the ex-CBS anchor who was let go after using discredited documents in a 2004 story about then-President George W. Bush. The GMA co-host sympathetically explained how Rather is "upset" by his abrupt exit: "...You felt that your team at CBS and its corporate ownership at Viacom, didn't back you up in that pursuit of the news and the truth." [See video below. MP3 audio here.]

His "pursuit" of "truth?" Rather seemed to be parroting the fake but accurate description of the documents relating to Bush's service in the National Guard.

He proclaimed, "I'm not at CBS now because I and my team reported a true story. It was tough. A story a lot of people didn't want to believe and it was subjected to a propaganda barrage to discredit it. But the facts are there."

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Earlier, Rather wanted it both ways: "I'm not acknowledging mistakes were made. But even if mistakes were made,  absolutely [networks should standby journalists]."

It's not as though ABC isn't capable of taking a hard look at this story. On September 14, 2004, Brian Ross exposed concerns that CBS experts had about the documents:

ABC's Brian Ross reported on Tuesday's World News Tonight that "two experts hired by CBS News say the network ignored concerns they raised prior to the broadcast about the disputed National Guard records." Ross explained how Emily Will, a certified document examiner, "says she saw problems right away with the one document CBS hired her to check in the days before the broadcast."

Will, with her day references to before and after the Wednesday 60 Minutes broadcast, recalled how she predicted: "I told them that all the questions I was asking them at that time, which was Tuesday night, they were going to be asked by hundreds of other document examiners on Thursday if they ran that story." Ross noted that "CBS made no mention that any expert disputed the authenticity of the documents." Meanwhile, the secretary for the supposed author of the memos told the Dallas Morning News that they are "not real."

Rather than engage in journalism, Stephanopoulos acted thoroughly confused. He wondered, "But there was no way to know the entire truth, is there? Without all the documents?"

Stephanopoulos rhapsodized, "We also have a great guest inside right now. Dan Rather, legendary newsman." He later repeated, "A new autobiography by legendary news man Dan Rather reads like modern American history."

News reader Josh Elliott enthused, "Coming up, news legend Dan Rather sits down with George, live!" Just in case anyone was confused, an ABC graphic reminded, "'Rather Outspoken' News Legend Dan Rather."

A transcript of the April 30 segment can be found below:


8:30am EDT

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: We also have a great guest inside right now. Dan Rather, legendary newsman. Always outspoken, always out-irreverent [sic]. Landed some of the biggest interviews ever with some of the world's most compelling people. He's got a new autobiography. It is really something.

8:40

JOSH ELLIOTT: Coming up, news legend Dan Rather sits down with George, live!

8:43

ABC GRAPHIC: "Rather Outspoken" News Legend Dan Rather

STEPHANOPOULOS: A new autobiography by legendary news man Dan Rather reads like modern American history. He was there for all the major events of the last 60 years, from the civil rights movement to the Kennedy assassination, Vietnam, 9/11, every event in between. The best-selling author's new book Rather Outspoken: My Life in the News may be his most controversial yet. And Dan Rather is here with us now. And I said, excuse me for my shoes. I was on assignment this morning at the World Trade Center this morning. [George is wearing work boots.]

DAN RATHER: Very stylish.

STEPHANOPOULOS:  You really did do it all in your 44 years at CBS News. When you look back, which story made the biggest mark on you?

RATHER: I think the coverage of Dr. Martin Luther King's civil rights movement when I first came to CBS News. It changed me as a person and it changed me as a pro. 1962, 1963 when my job was to be as close to Martin Luther King as one could get and cover the civil rights movement. Let's face it, George. You're looking at a reporter who got lucky. Very, very lucky, to have covered the stories I have covered over the years. But to answer your question, I'd have to say that one.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You had good luck. You also had some bad luck. You pull no punches. I said this to you just before we came on the air. You pull no punches in this memoir about the controversy that blew up, really, as you left, around you leaving CBS and really centered around two different stories.  The one that really created the most controversy- this whole story about George W. Bush and how he handled National Guard service in Alabama back in the 1970s. You maintain that he simply did not show up. Believe that is true today. But some of the documents you used were called into question. But you have no regrets.

RATHER: No. You know, George, my attitude has gotten in recent years, that sometimes things in journalism go badly for the correspondent. But it's important not to get baffled, not to be afraid and to never quit. I have a passion for covering news. I love covering news. And particularly when you do investigative stories, not everything is going to go well. I've had my ups and downs. I've seen rain. I've seen fire. I've seen starry nights. I've seen it all. But I've never lost my passion for what I do.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And it seems like one of the things that most upsets you, that you write about in the book, is that you felt that your team at CBS and its corporate ownership at Viacom, didn't back you up in that pursuit of the news and the truth.

RATHER Well, that was a situation, particularly at the corporate, the very top, corporate- You know hard investigative recording needs an ownership at the doesn't back down, doesn't back up, and backs its reporters. And that had been the CBS news tradition?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Even when mistakes are made though?

RATHER: I'm not acknowledging mistakes were made. But even if mistakes were made,  absolutely. Ben Bradlee with the Washington Post and the Watergate story. Go right down through. And the tradition at CBS News had been, "Look, we go into investigative reporting together. We do it together, and we stick together way through." That had been the CBS News tradition And we reported a true story. I'm not at CBS now because I and my team reported a true story. It was tough. A story a lot of people didn't want to believe and it was subjected to a propaganda barrage to discredit it. But the facts are there.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But there was no way to know the entire truth, is there? Without all the documents?

RATHER: On what story does anyone know the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? But we reported the truth and that is that President Bush, later President Bush, when he was in National Guard service, he was at least AWOL. And we had a top general in the Army saying, on the record, he was a deserter. Now, everybody makes mistakes. I made some, President Bush obviously made some. But because we reported that story, they put heavy pressure on the corporate entity. And the corporate entity folded. But a lot of this is in the book. I left, what, eight years ago. This happened eight years ago. So, we go through the book in great detail and anyone who's interested can read the book.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Right. I would just say one word, the Bush team would point out that he was honorably discharged, which at least raises questions about whether or not he had been a deserter. They, of course, deny that. But I want to move on because we only have a couple more minutes. Now that you're in a different entity. You're working for HD Net, working for an individual, not a corporate entity. Can you feel the difference?

RATHER: There's tremendous difference. This is one of the best times in my reporting life. I work for Mark Cuban who owns HD Net. And he agreed when I came to give me total, complete, absolute creative and editorial control. And he's been better than his word. And the liberating quality of that is something that surprised me. You know, I spent 44 years at CBS news, 24 years in the anchor chair there. Virtually as an adult, knew very little else. But to have this kind of liberation, particularly at this age and stage in my career, every morning when my feet hit the floor I can't wait to get at it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And your passion for finding the story has never stopped. Dan Rather, thanks very much.
 

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org