Forget the O.J. Simpson trial. The court case with the highest bitchiness quota in years will be the lawsuit that Dan Rather filed against CBS yesterday. Howard Kurtz tracked down Josh Howard, the executive producer of 60 Minutes II that resigned after the airing of the infamous National Guard segment, and Howard thinks Rather has lost his mind:
CBS management “coerced” the veteran news anchor “into publicly apologizing and taking personal blame for alleged journalistic errors in the broadcast,” says the $70 million suit, which also names Sumner Redstone, chief executive of the network’s then-parent company, Viacom; CBS Chairman Les Moonves; and former CBS News president Andrew Heyward.
Several former colleagues said they were baffled by the move. “I think he’s gone off the deep end,” said Josh Howard, who was forced to resign as executive producer of “60 Minutes II” after CBS retracted the story. “He seems to be saying he was just the narrator.
“He did every interview. He worked the sources over the phone. He was there in the room with the so-called document experts. He argued over every line in the script. It’s laughable.”
Rome Hartman, a former executive producer of “CBS Evening News” who now works for the BBC, said: “It’s got to be about this lasting sense of hurt and pride. I was flabbergasted. I just don’t get it.”
It didn’t take long for this to get hot — and these people should be sympathetic to Rather’s cause. After all, if Rather can substantiate the obviously faked memos and the already-discredited notion that Bush got preferential treatment in going into the National Guard, then that vindicates John Howard, and perhaps indirectly Rome Hartman. Howard got pushed out of CBS rather than voluntarily jumping, after all.
Rather’s attorney tried to fill the zone with inanities yesterday. He insisted that Rather didn’t really want the money, and that any cash taken from CBS would get donated to “journalistic causes”. That would, of course, come after Martin Gold’s cut. Gold also insisted that the memos had not been proven as forgeries, despite the source’s inability to authenticate the memos and an avalanche of evidence that shows clearly that the memos got typed on a computer, using typeset-style word processing software. Maybe Gold spent September and October 2004 in a coma, and Rather hopes to help Gold pay off his medical bills.
Bernard Goldberg, whose book Bias exposed Rather as a brooding martinet, scoffed at Rather’s lawsuit. He noted that Rather has never taken responsibility for his failures. “This is the man who signed off his newscast with ‘courage,’ and now he’s alleging ‘they made me do it, they just put the words in front of me.’ This is ridiculous on so many levels.” Even after he did take responsibility, in his apology in which he claimed that “I want to say personally and directly, I’m sorry,” Rather now says he lied on the air and only said that because CBS forced him to do it.
Rather finished his career at CBS as a warning to others about hubris and bias. Now he seems determined to rewrite even that denouement to turn himself into a joke. Don’t expect CBS to cave on this lawsuit, and don’t turn that dial.
UPDATE: Josh Howard, not John Howard. John Howard is the indefatigable Australian Prime Minister. To quote Dan Rather, “I want to say personally and directly, I’m sorry.” Three years from now, I’ll sue reader Turner H for pointing out my error.