With Katie Couric lounging in the wings, Dan Rather is now expendable, and the suits at CBS News are squeezing him out of his last remaining gig on "60 Minutes." This has caused great distress for those who like their news to look like a long commercial for MoveOn.org, which is to say, the Dan Rather fan club.
CBS smiled politely as they pushed him away, but the Philadelphia Inquirer quoted an anonymous former CBS executive, who denounced the shove-off as "disgraceful. He's a legend. He gave his life to that company. Even though he made a big mistake, he did 43 years and 11 months' great work."
If Rather's that great, why didn't the executive have the courage to go on the record?
Rather had a Nixonian ending, resigning from the anchor chair in disgrace after being in complete denial about his own political corruption. It's not surprising that some will now try to rehabilitate his reputation, but they won't have much more luck than Nixon did. Rather does not have a sterling record of journalism. He is a grand example of the anchorman as a powerful and partisan national politician who never had to be elected, yet had a lot more visibility and wielded a lot more influence than most elected officials.
There is a rich irony here. It was that very zest for power -- in this case, a story that would have destroyed the re-election hopes of President George W. Bush -- that backfired and cost Rather his career.
The shameful "scoop" charged Bush with the surprisingly puny offense of missing some of his National Guard duty (yes, puny, compared to young Bill Clinton completely skipping out on the University of Arkansas ROTC.) Rather breathlessly delivered his "umimpeachable source," Bill Burkett, who turned out to be a Bush-hating fruitcake. He sent documents by fax, and the document examiners CBS hired warned they were inadequate at best, yet Rather went full steam ahead. It was not thorough or thoughtful journalism. It was not defensible. It was flat-out embarrassing, akin to Janet Cooke's non-existent 8-year-old heroin addict.
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