When the news broke that Dan Rather was suing CBS News for $70 million for somehow destroying his reputation, the most noticeable reaction came from the media establishment itself. From the first story in The New York Times, it carried a different tone between the lines of the breaking news. Rather's former colleagues think he's lost his marbles.
The Times story by Jacques Steinberg said Rather's career came to an "inglorious end" and now he's taking "vehement issue" with CBS's soft-scrub internal investigation. Rather claimed "to be reduced to little more than a patsy" in the story and now works for an "obscure cable channel." The implication between the lines? Gunga Dan's picked one battle too many.
Almost no one outside the vast expanse of Dan Rather's ego thinks this lawsuit is a good idea either for CBS or for Rather. Even people who were fired for helping him produce the despicable phony-document stunt against President Bush in 2004 said he had gone off the "deep end" by portraying himself as a clueless narrator who was too busy covering Bill Clinton's heart problems to obsess over George Bush's National Guard records. Contrary to Rather's insistence that he was a patsy, his co-workers said he pressed hard on the story, chewing over every line.
The legal brief itself was Rather's ego on parade, right from the first lines introducing the plaintiff as "Dan Rather, one of the foremost broadcast journalists of our time." He was the earnest Uncle Sam of journalistic integrity: "Throughout his career, Mr. Rather has promoted, championed, and been emblematic of journalistic independence and journalistic freedom from extraneous interference." Vanity, thy name is Rather.
Rather added to that hootenanny of chutzpah by appearing on CNN's "Larry King Live" to declare, "We have to somehow get back to integrity in the news." Next we'll hear Bill Clinton on that network promoting abstinence.
In Rather's fevered brain, he is the populist against Big Corporations and Big Government in collusion, a vast right-wing conspiracy on steroids. He is the idealist in the middle of an Oliver Stone movie who keeps the red, beating heart of democracy alive. He declared at the top of the Larry King show that he sued CBS because "somebody, some time has got to take a stand and say democracy cannot survive, much less thrive" in the current era of corporate-government collusion.
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