Rather's Still Fiercely 'Independent,' With a Bias Against Caving In to Power

As the alleged titans of HDNet get ready to debut disgraced CBS anchor Dan Rather's new show next week, Rather tells the Denver alternative weekly Westword that he and HDNet mogul Mark Cuban are great compadres without any distinguishing ideological characteristics:

Rather...has much the same attitude. "I don't know what Mark's politics are, and I don't care -- and he doesn't care what mine are as far as I have them," he says. "My only bias is to do reporting that doesn't cave in to people in powerful positions.

"When I refuse to report the news the way somebody wants it reported, increasingly those people will say, 'We'll hang a sign around you and use every means at our disposal to make people see you in a negative way,'" he continues. "But professionally, I am what my record is. And what my record shows is that I'm independent -- fiercely so, when I think it's necessary. And what's encouraging to me is, the audience gets it."

Does he reaaally want to go on a publicity tour with the message "I am what my record is"? Ouch. Rather's record is a record of being fiercely negative to Republicans (especially Bushes) and fiercely protective of Democrats (especially Clintons.) Anyone who buys the notion that Dan is fiercely independent needs to go back and see him interviewing Hillary the "political superstar....Once a political lightning rod, today she is political lightning." That's fiercely something, but it's not fiercely independent. It obviously qualifies as caving into power in a most gelatinous way.

While Westword made oblique reference to Rather's ahem, problem with using phony memos in an attempt to discredit President Bush, we are told Rather was a hot commodity:  

Cuban stresses that Rather was very much in demand after leaving CBS earlier this year. "He was swamped with offers from other networks, in particular on cable," he maintains. "He chose the network that was most differentiated from the way things are always done: HDNet."

The fact that a single individual was in charge was attractive to Rather as well. "I was looking for what Bill Paley was in the 1930s, or what Ted Turner was in the late '70s -- someone who owned their own entity and had a passion for news," he recalls. A mutual acquaintance suggested that he meet with Cuban, whom Rather knew mainly from the Mavs. ("I'm a basketball nut," he says.) But when they got together in February, the men found further common ground in their admiration for CBS legend Edward R. Murrow, the subject of Good Night, and Good Luck, a George Clooney-directed movie that Cuban executive-produced. When Rather revealed that he wanted to model his next program on Murrow's classic See It Now series, "Mark said, 'I can do that,' which took me aback. But things moved very quickly after that. He told me he wanted me to have complete, total and absolute creative control, and he's been better than his word in every category. I don't know if I've found a 21st-century version of Bill Paley or Ted Turner, but if I haven't, I've found someone as close as I reckon I'm going to get."

With a staff of only around twenty, Rather says he feels like he's working "without a net" on Reports -- but in some ways, he prefers knowing there isn't one to thinking there is and discovering otherwise. "I don't spend time thinking about CBS News, and I don't think they spend time thinking about me. It's in my rearview mirror," he says. "But in a large corporate setting, it's increasingly difficult to know who makes the decisions about whether you get backup. And Mark is no stranger to controversy. He knows how to handle heat, heavy heat, and I appreciate that."

As for Cuban, he can afford to shrug off the gripes of conservatives and anyone else who has a problem with Dan Rather Reports. As he puts it, "I think media critics take sides and attack whoever they think is on the other side. It's a shame, but true. Which is why we don't pay attention to the way things have always been done."

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis