This may come as a shock to some of you, but I grew up idolizing Dan Rather.

In 1973, he stood up to Richard Nixon and asked tough questions in a press conference when the Watergate scandal was unfolding. Nixon tried to deflect the query by saying: “Are you running for something?”

Rather’s brilliant retort: “No, Mr. President, are you?”

That’s the kind of reporter I wanted to be at the age of 19. I read Rather’s book. And I set out to be a courageous investigative reporter.

But there was a problem.

To do this kind of work honestly, you’ve got to be tough on all politicians – left, right, Democrat, Republican. And I soon learned that my hero – Dan Rather – was one of those journalists who was only tough on Republicans.

I tell you this story because I just got back from a panel discussion about “Rather-gate” with some of my colleagues on MSNBC’s “Scarborough Country.”

You know what I mean by “Rather-gate.” It’s the story of how an aging network news anchor ended his multi-generational career with a bang – by claiming to have in his hands smoking-gun documents that prove President George Bush didn’t fulfill his National Guard duty more than 30 years ago.

This was no doubt going to be the capstone of Rather’s tenure heading CBS News. Instead, it turned out to be one more giant black eye for him and his network. It may prove to be Rather’s undoing.

Anyway, everybody on this panel – from John Stossel to Gerry Warren to Mort Zuckerman to Byron York – was, in my opinion, pussyfooting around. No one wanted to offend Rather. No one wanted to say the guy is a fraud. No one wanted to say he has no integrity.

And I never got the chance.

So, here goes.

Rather’s big mistake was not accepting these bogus documents from an anonymous source and peddling them like they were the Dead Sea Scrolls. I’m sure he’s done stuff like that hundreds of times over the years. Heck, he still thinks there’s nothing wrong with those papers – even though it is technically impossible for them to have been produced before the desktop computer age.

No, that wasn’t Dan’s big mistake, because he would have gotten away with that one as he has so many times over the last 35 years,

His real mistake was allowing CBS to post those papers on the network’s website, where they could be inspected by 300 million Americans far more discerning than Rather and his producers.

They looked bogus. They smelled bogus. And within hours, experts and amateur sleuths on the Internet – with far fewer resources than Rather’s fact-checking staff – were poking holes in them. Big holes. Monster holes.

Nevertheless, even though Rather had, with malice aforethought, impeached the integrity of the president of the United States – in wartime, no less – his colleagues on this cable show wanted no part of challenging the highly paid network anchor’s integrity.

Again, it is left to me.

Rather’s a fraud. He’s always been a fraud. He has no integrity. He’s a partisan shill. And I’ll prove it to you.

Do you remember him cooing with Bill and Hillary Clinton in those love fests that passed for interviews during eight years of that regime? It was sickening. He was a sycophant. He loved them and it showed.

Three years ago, Rather spoke at a fund-raiser for the Texas Democratic Party.

He later apologized and said it was the biggest mistake he ever made in his career. But what Rather really meant was getting caught was the biggest mistake he ever made.

He’s been doing the partisan work of Democrats ever since he’s been in the business. The only time he was honest about it was when he spoke to that fund-raiser.

This wasn’t an honest mistake – any more than “Rather-gate” is. You can’t tell me that after 35 years in the business, Dan Rather didn’t know newsmen aren’t supposed to dabble in partisan politics. He thought he could get away with it. He thought he was bigger than life. He thought the rules that applied to mere mortal journalists no longer applied to him.

When challenged about this partisanship, Rather said it’s not true. And he offered as proof his opposition to President Lyndon Johnson’s conduct of the Vietnam War.

Well, Dan, I got news for you. Lots of other Democrats objected to Johnson’s conduct of the war, too. And one of them, your buddy, John Kerry, is running for president today.

And we all know you would do anything in your power to get him elected. As an American, that is your right. But as a newsman, that is your disqualification.

Time to go, Dan. Don’t let the door slam on your way out.

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