Rather 'Absolutely' Stands by 'Truth' of Bush Story, Slams Criticism as 'Diversionary'
A bit later, Rather played the martyr. Reminded by King of how Rather's CBS News was called “the liberal network,” Rather charged: "They call you names when you insist on being independent.” Rather proceeded to insist, clearly talking about himself, that journalists who are “willing to be truly independent, and fiercely independent when called upon, and dedicated to pulling no punches and playing no favorites have become in recent years a bit of an endangered species.” Rather even resurrected how CBS “took on” Senator McCarthy and “led in coverage of the only President in history who resigned as an unindicted co-conspirator in a widespread criminal conspiracy. Now, when you're a reporter involved in those kinds of stories on a regular basis, there are...powerful people who say we've got to get rid of this guy or...we're going to damage him up. And that's when they start hanging the signs around you."
NewsBusters item, “Dan Rather: Conservative Critics Want To Tar Me As 'Bomb-Throwing Bolshevik,'” quoted how Rather delivered the same argument Tuesday at the Television Critics Association gathering in Pasadena.
Rather's Wednesday night attitude, in which he stood by his 2004 story and attributed a nefarious political motive to those who pointed out his own political agenda and inaccurate reporting, also matches the approach he took last September 26 in a National Press Club session with Marvin Kalb. As recounted in the September 27, 2004 MRC CyberAlert, posted with Real and Windows Media video:
In an interview with Marvin Kalb carried live by C-SPAN from the National Press Club, Dan Rather made quite clear that he believes in the accuracy of his Bush National Guard story based on what everyone else realizes were fabricated memos. Rather argued that "one supporting pillar of the story, albeit an important one, one supporting pillar was brought into question. To this day no one has proven whether it was what it purported to be or not." Kalb pressed for clarification: "I believe you just said that you think the story is accurate?" Rather affirmed: "The story is accurate."Also check Matthew Sheffield's September 26 rundown of Rather's comments that night, a posting which features a longer video excerpt.
Rather soon maintained that the public recognizes the "hidden hand pressure" politicians exert on media executives and so "they understood that what we reported as the central facts of the story and there were new insights into the President's, were correct and to this day, by the way have not been denied which is always the test of whether," and he moved on before finishing his sentence. Later, talking about using "courage" as a sign-off in the mid-1980s, Rather rued: "There's part of me, it says, you know, 'damn I wish I hadn't caved, I wish I'd stuck with it.'" That prompted Kalb to ask: "Do you think your network showed courage last fall?" Rather answered by remaining silent for seven seconds.
(Last November, Rather's producer on the story, Mary Mapes, stood by her work. See “Mary Mapes: Bush National Guard Story Still "Is a Good Story" and “Mapes Tells CNN's King She Had No Political Agenda, Charges Bloggers “Went Nuts.” Both NewsBusters postings include video clips.)
Now, excerpts from two portions of the July 12 Larry King Live interview, in which Rather appeared live in-studio with King from CNN's Los Angeles studio. I corrected the first segment against the closed-captioning and the MRC's Brad Wilmouth corrected the second.
From just past 9:30pm EDT:
Larry King: “We're back with an extraordinary broadcaster, an old friend, Dan Rather. You mentioned earlier, I want to go back to it, unkept promises. Like?”
Rather: “Well, I was told that I was going to be a regular correspondent on 60 Minutes. I wasn't. That's an example. There were unkept promises. And I asked several times that the promises be kept, and-”
King: “What'd they tell you?”
Rather: “Well, I was told through third parties, we think we're keeping them. That was part of it. In some cases it was demonstrably true that they weren't keeping it. You know Larry, as I talk about this -- and I want to answer your questions as truthfully as I can, as candidly as I can -- but compared to what news ought to be doing, concentrating on whatever happened to Dan Rather at CBS News, how he left, under what circumstances, and even the story in which I didn't, we didn't do as good a job as I thought we should have done. And I do want to make clear, you've played several times the clip of what I said on the air: That was, first of all, I was playing team. I meant every word of it. In that the, we had a lot, a lot of corroboration, of what we broadcast about President Bush's military record. It wasn't just the documents. But it's a very old technique used, that when those who don't like what you're reporting believe it can be hurtful, then they look for the weakest spot and attack it, which is fair enough. It's a diversionary technique.”
King: “You're saying that was a fair report, I mean that was -- you believe that report to this day?”
Rather: “Do I believe the truth of the story? Absolutely.”
King: “Have you ever thought of entertaining a lawsuit?”
Rather, after silence: “Notice that I pause.”
King: “Pregnant pause.”
Rather: “I'm not going to talk about that.”
At about 9:53pm EDT:
Larry King: "They called Dan Rather at CBS the liberal network, right?"
Dan Rather: "Well, they call you names when you insist on being independent. Larry, I think it's so important for the public to understand -- it's not important for Dan Rather, not important for people who have made a lot of money and got more credit than they deserve, which I have over the years -- but it's important for the American people to understand that a journalist or journalistic enterprise that's willing to be truly independent, and fiercely independent when called upon, and dedicated to pulling no punches and playing no favorites have become in recent years a bit of an endangered species. And it's not for their sake. It's not for journalists' sake but for the sake of the country you want journalists knocking on doors and saying, ‘What's going on in there?’
“Now, journalism is a human endeavor, and nobody can do it perfectly. Certainly I didn't do it perfectly. A lot of people think I did it lousily. Maybe I did. And I've got my scars and got my wounds. And yes, people always want to put a sign around you and call you something bad if you refuse to report the news the way they want it reported. I had my difficulties with Lyndon Johnson, with, certainly with Richard Nixon, with President Carter. It's in the nature. If you're an independent-minded journalist, then people who have a highly politically partisan and/or ideological point-of-view, what they come at you with in saying, 'listen, if you don't report the news the way we want you to report it, we're going to make you pay a price, and we'll damage you badly and if we can destroy you we'll destroy you.'
“Now, this is important for the public to understand. And forgive the personal reference if you must, but CBS News has a history. Edward R. Murrow took on Senator McCarthy and what he stood for. He took on with Harvest of Shame in a great documentary about the poor. Then CBS News led with civil rights, led in coverage of the Vietnam War, led in coverage of the only President in history who resigned as an unindicted co-conspirator in a widespread criminal conspiracy. Now, when you're a reporter taking, involved in those kinds of stories on a regular basis, there are people and there are powerful people who say we've got to get rid of this guy or we have to have this guy, we're going to damage him up. And that's when they start hanging the signs around you."