Dan Rather’s lawsuit has certainly brought about a change in his fortunes. He has managed to get his colleagues in the news media to shift their opinion about him almost overnight. Once regarded as a respected journalist who just got one story wrong and refused to admit it, the lawsuit has generated an outright antagonism among journalists that never existed before. Charles Lane of the Washington Post’s editorial page staff writes a hilarious and pointed attack on Rather’s vanished credibility by declaring the lawsuit a “fake”:
I have obtained new documentary evidence regarding Dan Rather’s relationship with his former bosses at CBS News.
Obviously, I cannot identify my source. But he told me during a collect call from Sofia, Bulgaria, that he has access to Rather’s “personal files” and that his typewriter was built after 1966. To authenticate the document, I showed it to some of my kids’ friends, and they said it was awesome. …
Yes, there is another document making the rounds that suggests that Dan Rather is actually bitter at his former employers. I am referring to the 32-page “lawsuit” in which Rather purportedly accuses various chieftains at CBS of “coercing” him into a false apology for the National Guard broadcast and then muzzling him and starving him of airtime to please the White House.
Clearly, this “lawsuit” is a forgery — and a pretty crude one at that.
No man in Rather’s position would admit that he could be made to apologize for a story he believed was true. A straight-shooting newsman like Dan Rather would have resigned rather than obey an order to lie to the public. …
Finally, no one in his right mind would keep insisting that those phony documents are real and that the Bush National Guard story is true.
Lane not only mocks Rather’s lawsuit, but in this case Rather himself and his mannered use of folksyisms. Lane, who Power Line reminds us had to clean up after the Stephen Glass fiasco at The New Republic, clearly has no use for a newsman of Rather’s former stature attempting to perpetuate journalistic frauds. He uses the ersatz internal Rather memo to remind readers of the occasions where CBS stood by its controversial anchor, including when he raised funds for the Democratic Party, walked off the set and left CBS with several minutes of dead air, and how they paid Rather’s $6 million annual salary for almost two years after the Memogate fiasco, even after they replaced him as anchor.
Howard Kurtz can’t find a single media commentator to say anything positive about Rather’s attempt to speak Conspiracy to Power, except for Mary Mapes, who understandably has a horse in this race. However, Mapes has to be dismayed that the three years since the debacle has not won her or Rather any friends. Indeed, Mapes might qualify as collateral damage to the fallout over Rather’s lawsuit. She has been spared the hostility Rather has received for his lawsuit, but clearly the only two people who believe the CBS story and the memos are Rather and Mapes, and now they’re not even getting the benefit of the “fake but accurate” doubt they received from previously sympathetic media colleagues in the weeks after the story aired.
Both Mapes and Rather have become laughingstocks, and even worse for them, cautionary tales.