[promoted by BooMan at jpol’s request]
Updated by the author July 2, 2006.
The mainstream media and many corners of the blogosphere would have you believe that MemoGate
killed Dan Rather’s career at CBS News; that CBS discarded him because it was
eager to pave the way for the new Katie Couric era; that it wanted to attract
a younger generation of viewers to 60 Minutes. None of this is true.
I killed Dan Rather. I killed him for sport, because I had the means to do so
and it was easy. I killed him out of a cruel and ruthless impulse to justify
my manhood. I killed him for the thrill of knowing that I could do it and get
away with it. I killed to deprive him of the last chance at professional redemption
that he craved. I killed him for one of the oldest reasons known to humankind.
It was Pierre Ambroise Francois Choderios de LaClos (1741-1803) who originally
said it in French in his 1782 book Les Liasons Dangereuses: “La vengeance
est un plat qui se mange froid.” Revenge
is a dish best served cold.
I offer my confession
and guilty plea below the fold.
Not only did I
make Dan Rather’s acquaintance at CBS News, where I was employed during the
mid-Seventies; he tried to help me along there while I was in my mid-twenties,
looking for a career break. I did some research at his request as possible leads
came in following his November 1975 documentary series, “The American Assassins,”
particularly the segment on Martin Luther King, Jr. This work was after hours,
unpaid, and outside the jurisdiction of the Writers Guild of America contract
that governed my employment. For those reasons, a senior executive of the CBS
News Division eventually put a stop to it. Regardless, still in the thrall back
then of Rather’s reporting on Watergate, I admired him, conjured up excuses
in my own mind for his lapses on the John F. Kennedy assassination, and clung
to the hope that he would eventually use his power and position to change the
direction of CBS’s previous apologies for the Warren Report.
You would have
to be of a certain age to recall that, besides his stint in Dallas that terrible
weekend in November 1963, Rather was CBS’s principal reporter for three documentaries
on the Kennedy assassination, two of which were anchored by The Most Trusted
Man in America, Walter Cronkite. The first was broadcast in September 1964 on
the day of the Warren Report’s release and ostensibly intended only as a graphical
parroting of the Report’s findings with no attempt at critical analysis. The
second, a four-hour extravaganza broadcast on consecutive nights in June 1967,
at the height of the Vietnam War, addressed the burgeoning controversy over
the Report and whether Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated President Kennedy alone.
"The CBS Commission on the Assassination" ruled that he did. The third,
anchored by Rather himself in November 1975, considered the revitalized controversy
in the shadow of Watergate, yet held unwaveringly to CBS’s previous findings.
After I left CBS
in September 1976, in gratitude to Dan, and harboring a naïve faith, I
resisted the repeated urgings of several of my fellow students of the Kennedy
assassination over many years to write and speak about CBS News. This weekend,
however, I am congratulating myself on Dan’s public humiliation. You see, Dan
Rather committed seppuku
while on the air in September 2004, but I am the second who delivered the daki-kubi
—the coup de grâce — in a less-noticed ceremony.
My weapon of choice
was neither the gun nor the knife nor the saber, but the simple power of the
Internet to give voice to the voiceless, and to expose that which the mainstream
press refuses to touch. It was a web site, and the Flash documentary that it
hosts: CBS News, ABC
News and the Lone Assassin Theory.
In that presentation
I detailed, among other things, how a conflict among CBS News executives in
1966 over whether to present a balanced debate or to editorialize on the case
resulted in a defense brief for the Warren Commission, aided in secret by a
former member of the commission, John J. McCloy; how CBS suppressed an explosive
discovery about the Kennedy autopsy, corroborated years later by several witnesses,
that went to the very heart of the JFK assassination controversy during its
peak in the Sixties and may have forced the U.S. Government to reopen the investigation
at an early point; and how CBS skewered the results of pseudo-scientific tests
to make the lone assassin conclusion seem more plausible.
The web site launched
three weeks after Rather stepped down from the coveted anchor role at CBS News
on March 9, 2005, having become embroiled in a scandal over his reports for
both 60 Minutes II and The CBS Evening News on President George
W. Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard.
I had finally
seen the light — and my expectations dashed — after Dan failed to
take any initiative on the JFK case through the decades that passed since he
succeeded Walter Cronkite as chief anchorman and Managing Editor of The CBS
Evening News. They were decades of internal corporate convulsions, mass
layoffs, shuttered bureaus, declining ratings, and embarrassing gaffes. Through
it all, Dan Rather remained the face of CBS News and its “point man” for the
JFK assassination saga. He steadfastly held the line for the lone assassin theory
that was drawn by the same corporate executives who plucked him from obscurity
and made him both a star and a multi-millionaire, even long after they had retired
or died and the ownership of CBS changed hands from Paley to Tisch to Westinghouse
There were stories
out there to report. Jefferson Morley of The Washington Post, and former
Army Intelligence Major John Newman (now teaching history at the University
of Maryland) were uncovering tantalizing clues to the Central Intelligence Agency’s
intense interest in Lee Harvey Oswald during the weeks and months preceding
the assassination. New insights into Oswald’s alleged sojourn to Mexico City
in September 1963, and the wounding of Kennedy during the assassination, were
emerging from the investigations by the House Select Committee on Assassinations
and the Assassination Records Review Board; studies by independent experts;
and the digital enhancement of the Zapruder film. Disturbing evidence emerged
of a plot (“Operation Northwoods”) by Kennedy’s Joint Chiefs of Staff to stir
up anti-Communist fury by faking a terrorist attack on domestic soil. Important
witnesses who could have been cajoled to tell their stories on film were dying
off. Through it all, Dan Rather sailed on, casting adrift CBS’s historical treasure-trove
of filmed interviews with witnesses now dead, and seeming to wash his hands
of the story that had propelled him from obscurity to national recognition.
The last straw
was his failure to resign in sympathy with the four of his colleagues who were
dismissed on January 10, 2005, in connection with 60 Minutes II‘s Bush-Texas
Air National Guard story. These were the people who had helped maintain his
franchise as the face of CBS News by doing his leg work behind the scenes. They
were the ones who toiled before and after the cameras rolled. Keeping steak
on his own table — long after CBS had made him fabulously wealthy —
while his backup team’s careers were smashed, illuminated for me in clear relief
the core essence of the man. You saw it again in his “sour grapes” spectacle
during the past two weeks.
When the Bush-National
Guard scandal forced Rather out of the anchor chair and into a markedly less
visible role as a 60 Minutes correspondent, CBS appeared willing to allow
him a dignified twilight in consideration of his long service. At least, that’s
what CBS’s President and Chief Executive Officer, Les Moonves, seemed to say
in a public statement he issued in response to an independent panel report on
Rather has already apologized for the segment and taken personal
responsibility for his part in the broadcast. He voluntarily moved
to set a date to step down from the CBS Evening News anchor chair
in March of 2005, which will give him more time to concentrate on
his reporting for CBS NEWS. After examining the report and thinking
about its implications, we believe any further action would not
Statement from Leslie Moonves, Co-President and Co-Chief Operating
Officer of Viacom and Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of CBS,
January 10, 2005 (emphasis supplied).
And there matters
seemed to rest as I launched the Flash presentation at the start of April 2005.
CBS News was advised of its existence by third parties, and an independent web
metrics service tells me that it has been viewed within CBS’s proprietary network
domain. The last known viewing was on May 9, 2006, after which Rather was not
asked to perform any further work for CBS. As he told Jacques Steinberg of The
New York Times:
done virtually nothing for six weeks,” he said. “Anybody who knows
me knows that’s not the way I like to work.”
Jacques Steinberg, “Dan
Rather Considering Offer From Mark Cuban,” published on The
New York Times web site the evening of June 16, 2006; revised and
republished as “Moving
Ahead, Rather Throws Sad Look Back,” NYT June 17, 2006 (subscription
may be required).
was playing possum. As late as June 5, 2006, responding to inquiries about Rather’s
absence from a CBS affiliates meeting in Las Vegas, a CBS spokesperson
was quoted as saying: “Dan Rather is a 60 Minutes correspondent who is currently
working on stories that will air in the next few weeks.” Broadcasting & Cable,
June 5, 2006, posted at 8:04 am.
CBS finally reversed
its public posture in mid-June 2006, when it leaked word to The
Washington Post that it would not renew Rather’s contract, effectively laying
out an unwelcome mat for a fading star reluctant to depart. It seems that CBS
had been busy recording new promos for Katie Couric and laying plans for a new
set to house her in September. A few days later, on June 20, came the official
announcement from CBS that Rather would be leaving.
The decorous way
that CBS treated the late Douglas Edwards, and the unceremonious way it ushered
Dan Rather out the door, make for a fascinating comparison, especially apt in
view of their similar tenures (Edwards, 45 years; Rather, 44).
In the early days
of television, Doug Edwards anchored CBS’s 15-minute evening news broadcast
(1948-1962), until he was replaced by Walter Cronkite. However, for the next
26 years, CBS accorded Edwards a significant, albeit lesser, continuing role
as anchor of its mid-day network TV news summary (until its demise in 1980)
and its flagship network radio newscast, The World Tonight, in addition
to other hourly radio broadcasts, which he continued to write and deliver until
his retirement in 1988.
In Rather’s case,
by contrast, CBS seems to have found a compelling need to banish his persona
from its air waves. Its lengthy press release announcing the severance notwithstanding,
it bears emphasis that CBS has still offered no logical explanation for its
change of course, its refusal to extend Rather’s contract, and its inability
to reach any form of accommodaton with him. Instead, it has manipulated public
For example, catering
to the widespread assumptions of media pundits that CBS was bent upon making
room for younger talent, current CBS News President Sean McManus told interviewers
that, with the impending addition of incoming anchor Katie Couric and CNN’s
Anderson Cooper as part-time members of the 60 Minutes team, there was
no longer sufficient work for Rather. However, both McManus and Rather independently
confirmed that they had never once met since McManus took office in November
2005. McManus made curious references to the involvement of CBS lawyers in his
decision to avoid any contact with Rather. The
Washington Post reported, “On the advice of company lawyers, McManus never
met with Rather.” USA
Today quoted him as follows: “McManus, named president in November, says
he didn’t talk to Rather about his future because lawyers ‘got very quickly
involved’ and he was advised to let them handle it.”
Advised by who?
Handle what? What brought on such an adversarial relationship between CBS management
and Rather that the company’s lawyers had to be involved? No one is talking.
did not seal its deal with Couric until the first week of April 2006, or
with Anderson Cooper until the month of May. Clearly, then, for at least five
months before either Couric or Cooper was hired, Rather was persona non grata
with the president of CBS News in deference to its corporate lawyers on the
advice of someone unknown. It is a fair inference, therefore, that CBS was secretly
setting the stage for Rather’s departure well in advance of hiring his replacements
for both The CBS Evening News and 60 Minutes.
Rather was the only correspondent whom CBS let go, while it retained air talent
of equal (Morley Safer, 74) or more advanced (Andy Rooney, 88) age for the 2006-2007
season of 60 Minutes, which strongly suggests that Rather’s age was not
a dominant factor in his involuntary departure, as some media analysts have
true motive in severing its ties to Rather, it has consequently severed the
network’s last active link to its past coverage of the Kennedy assassination
and subsequent controversy. With the network’s reputation at risk, the last
thing it needed was another scandal devolving upon Dan Rather, and with some
of its dirty laundry concerning the Warren Report documentaries now hung out
on the Web, CBS no longer had anything to lose.
Update July 2, 2006: They’re still not talking
For a fluff piece about the transitionary period at CBS News, the Associated
Press’s television writer, David Bauder, interviewed CBS News President Sean
McManus and, in a dispatch published July 2, one week after the appearance of this diary,
Bauder wrote this about Rather’s departure:
"It may never be known for certain whether the effort to negotiate
a new role for Rather was window-dressing, or if McManus was acting on orders
Significantly, McManus does not claim responsibility for the decision to terminate
CBS’s relationship with Rather. For now, then, CBS remains silent on what caused
a reversal in Leslie Moonves’ initial determination (made public on January
10, 2005) to allow Rather to continue reporting for CBS News.
The story is posted on several newspaper web sites, including:
That Rather’s involuntary departure from CBS was imbued with acrimony, however,
emerged clearly from his reported refusal to be interviewed for a PBS “American
Masters” documentary honoring Walter Cronkite’s 90th birthday, notwithstanding
the participation of such broadcasting luminaries as Tom Brokaw, Robert MacNeil,
Don Hewitt, Mike Wallace, Andy Rooney, Morley Safer and Bill Moyers.