Hurricane Dan Still Blowing Hot Air

Jonah Goldberg

9/21/2007 12:01:00 AM - Jonah Goldberg

In 2004, at the height of the Dan Rather Memogate story, I wrote in National Review: "Across the media universe the questions pour out: Why is Dan Rather doing this to himself? Why does he drag this out? Why won't he just come clean? Why would he let this happen in the first place? Why is CBS standing by him? Why ... why ... why?

"There is only one plausible answer: Ours is a just and decent God."

Well, God has not forsaken us. Dan Rather seems divinely inspired to crash more times than a Kennedy driving home from an office party. The multimillionaire semi-retired newsman is suing for $70 million, $1 million for every year he's been alive since he was 5 years old. Which is fitting, because that's what he sounds like. The gist of his lawsuit is that CBS used him as a "scapegoat" in the Memogate story to "pacify the White House." The swelled-headed former anchor, who used to brag incessantly about his toughness and independence, also whines in his suit that the network forced him to apologize under duress when "no apology from him was warranted," and that the former managing editor of CBS News "was not responsible for any such errors."

Indeed, according to Rather and his lawyers, the only mistakes made were by CBS management, which, in its eagerness to "appease angry government officials," had the temerity to apologize for passing off fake documents as real ones in a news story intended to sway a presidential election.

Oh, Rather is also crying himself to sleep on his enormous pillow every night over the outrage that CBS "refused" to send him to cover Hurricane Katrina despite the fact that "Mr. Rather is the most experienced reporter in the United States in covering hurricanes."

Rather used to compare his job to "a very high trapeze act, frequently with no net." Three years ago, he went splat in the bull's-eye of the center ring. Now, with the circus long since out of town, he all of a sudden wants a net rolled out.

But you know what? I say, "You go, Dan!"

Frankly, we need this. And by "we," I mean a grand coalition of people who delight in watching one of the 20th century's most pompous gasbags fall from the top of the laughingstock tree and hit every branch on the way down. These are dour times, and if Gunga Dan and Hurricane Dan and What's-The-Frequency-Kenneth Dan want to trade their Afghan robes, yellow windbreakers and enormous tinfoil hats for some baggy pants, bright-orange wigs and floppy shoes, I say let them. I just hope all of the Dans show up at the courthouse in a teensy-weensy clown car.

But we also need this because Rather's "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore" routine will help us get to the bottom of a story that was actually under-covered. CBS News, under Rather's direction, ran with fake documents - or, to be fair, documents so shoddily verified that no unbiased journalist would have run with them. When confronted with the rank incompetence and bad faith of the team he led (the lead producer tried to coordinate with the Kerry campaign), Rather first allowed three of his colleagues to be thrown under the bus, while he took a few more face-saving laps around CBS before he was quietly escorted out the door like the muttering office old-timer who's gone off his feed.

But now he's back like a crazy man who shows up unannounced at the Christmas party smelling like cabbage and old newspapers, wearing a trench coat but no pants. He wants $20 million in compensatory damages and a whopping $50 million in punitive damages. I'm no fancy lawyer guy, but last I checked, punitive damages were awarded to send a signal that "this must never happen again." So what's the "this" here? That network news divisions should never again spend weeks selling off their credibility like a fire sale at Wal-Mart, claiming their story was "fake but true," only to cave in to reality and admit they made a mistake?

The beauty of this lawsuit, which has most legal observers laughing so hard that their neck veins look like one-pound sausage casings with five pounds of ground chuck in them, is that if it goes to trial (shortly after unicorns file my taxes), CBS will be put in the position of having to prove that the story was bogus, while Rather will be forced to look even more like a grassy-knoll theorist, climbing back to the top of the laughingstock tree. So I say again: You go, Dan! I'll bring the popcorn.