Dan Rather's shoddy legacy

Brent Bozell
Posted: Mar 09, 2005 12:00 AM

The Dan Rather era may be over at the "CBS Evening News," complete with the self-congratulatory special segments. At least Rather's critics could enjoy Donald Trump being cued up on "Fox News Sunday" to say "Dan, you're fired." They know, as does everyone else, that it's only a matter of time before Rather's last journalistic assignment, the low-rated "60 Minutes Wednesday," is canceled, and he'll be gone for good.

 Rather has been brought so low that his retirement from the anchor chair is accompanied by a new book from the gossip editor of the National Enquirer called "Rather Dumb" that purports to instruct him in "How To Do News." In The New Yorker magazine, Ken Auletta quotes his longtime CBS colleagues Walter Cronkite and Mike Wallace as saying they don't watch Rather's newscast, and they find ABC or NBC easier to tolerate.

 What remains is the fight over the Dan Rather legacy. The best bet is to say that train has left the station, his legacy clinched by the incredibly shoddy Bush-bashing phony-memo weeks on "60 Minutes" last September.

 But some liberal media types have come out with their dukes up for Dan. CNN's Mark Shields complained that "the lynch mob won." Alex Jones, an author and former New York Times reporter, proclaimed it would be a "gross disservice" to remember only the career-ending fraud. "It doesn't diminish his decades-long career of distinguished broadcast journalism." He hoped "Over time, this is something that will be put in better perspective, especially if he has another chapter in his career."

 Rather himself is counting on a reversal of public opinion in the future, hoping to rehabilitate himself, just like his old nemesis, Richard Nixon. "I've learned to trust the audience," he told the Los Angeles Times. "The harshest critic could not be nearly as hard on me as I am on myself."

 And that's absurd. If Rather were the slightest bit hard on himself, he would have resigned the minute the forgery fiasco unraveled. He would not have let his supporting cast get thrown out on the street while he was still drawing a paycheck with so many zeroes it would give liberal tax-hikers the vapors. Someone who was the slightest bit hard on himself wouldn't have blamed the entire thing on conservative partisans trying to "check him out of existence." He would have apologized for his recklessness.

 But Rather created his own legacy with his stonewalling arrogance.

 If Rather was really so unquestionably distinguished and impartial, why does he have this flock of alleged conservative assassins unfurling a seemingly endless record of partisan cheap shots? It's important to argue from the public record that Alex Jones is dead wrong. It is not a gross disservice to remember Dan Rather's career as a long trail of heavily biased, corner-cutting, liberal-flacking and conservative-trashing journalism. It is also not incorrect to remember Rather as a Bush-loathing, Hillary-hailing, Fidel-flattering, Gorbachev-groveling, Saddam-sweet-talking insult to the ideals of objectivity and professionalism.

 Just as Rather's National Guard fiasco helped reelect George W. Bush last year, Rather also inadvertently played a role in electing George H.W. Bush in 1988 by literally screaming at him in an interview that "You've made us hypocrites in the face of the world!" He couldn't get over how Hillary was "political lightning," not to mention describing Bill Clinton as "an honest man" after he was impeached for perjury. After the armed seizure of Elian Gonzalez, Rather proclaimed Fidel Castro "feels a very deep and abiding connection to those Cubans who are still in Cuba." He described Gorbachev as a great leader, with impressive eyes that give "the look of a kind of human volcano, or he'd probably like to describe it as a human nuclear energy plant."

 After a 2003 interview with Saddam Hussein, where he helpfully asked what the dictator would like to say to the American people, Rather concluded the interview by expressing concern that "given the sober moment and the danger at hand, what are the chances this is the last time you and I will see each other?" Perhaps Dan will spent a few months in Baghdad trying to hook up another interview from Saddam's cell.

 Seven years ago, Dan Rather routinely described Kenneth Starr as a "Republican special prosecutor," and then hailed the poll results showing his incessant degrading of Starr worked. "Our poll suggests only 27 percent believe Starr is conducting an impartial probe." Dan Rather should be remembered as the liberal media's obsessed special prosecutor, which is why less than 27 percent should believe anything Dan Rather says after the mess he's made of CBS News.