Dan Rather’s lawsuit against his former employers has always seemed sort of a sideshow, a costly attempt by a fine journalist to regain his sullied reputation. But the New York Times now brings word that Rather’s endeavor, which has already cost him $2 million in lawyer’s fees, is yielding journalistic value. In short, the CBS corporate investigation that followed Rather’s problematic report on George W. Bush’s treatment in the Texas Air National Guard may not have been motivated by the best intentions. Consider the following factors taken into account when creating the “independent” panel to investigate the Rather story:
Some of the documents unearthed by his investigation include notes taken at the time by Linda Mason, a vice president of CBS News. According to her notes, one potential panel member, Warren Rudman, a former Republican senator from New Hampshire, was deemed a less-than-ideal candidate over fears by some that he would not “mollify the right.”
Meanwhile, Mr. [Dick] Thornburgh, who served as attorney general for both Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, was named a panelist by CBS, but only after a CBS lobbyist “did some other testing,” in which she was told, according to Ms. Mason’s notes, “T comes back with high marks from G.O.P.”
Another memorandum turned over to Mr. Rather’s lawyers by CBS was a long typed list of conservative commentators apparently receiving some preliminary consideration as panel members, including Rush Limbaugh, Matt Drudge, Ann Coulter and Pat Buchanan. At the bottom of that list, someone had scribbled “Roger Ailes,” the founder of Fox News.
Asked about the assembly of the panel in a sworn deposition, Andrew Heyward, the former president of CBS News, acknowledged that he had wanted at least one member to sit well with conservatives: “CBS News, fairly or unfairly, had a reputation for liberal bias,” and “the harshest scrutiny was obviously going to come from the right.”
Other documents, meanwhile, suggest that Ms. Mason, who reported to Mr. Heyward, was getting updates from panel investigators on some of their findings, at a point when CBS News was telling outsiders that the network was staying out of the investigation.
Another story that should not be missed: Howard Kurtz writes today about all the kinda-creepy (or really-creepy?) ways news organizations are trying to merchandise Barack Obama’s victory. And watch this because it’s funny.