While the presidential campaign and the news media remain fixated on the most recent Rathergate scandal, in which CBS News anchor Dan Rather foisted upon the public apparently fraudulent documents indicting George W. Bush for not fulfilling his National Guard duty, Anne Morse of National Review Online reminds us of a previous Rathergate scandal that directly relates to this one.
In 1988, in the midst of another presidential campaign in which another George Bush was running for president against another Massachusetts politician, Dan Rather made up another story – about Vietnam War atrocities allegedly committed routinely by American troops.
What do these two Rather scandals have in common?
They begin to show a pattern of deceit by Rather. They begin to suggest motivations beyond aggressive reporting. They begin to hint that Rather, like John F. Kerry, may be obsessed by the Vietnam War, the historical issue chosen by the Democratic candidate as the cornerstone of his campaign. They begin to make the case that Rather not only practices bad journalism, but he does it with a purpose, with an agenda, with a mission, at key moments that can impact American politics.
Why would Rather try to re-fight the Vietnam War in 1988? Was he setting the stage for an eventual run for the presidency by Sen. John Kerry, who could never consider such a campaign as long as his own ridiculous, unsubstantiated, reckless charges against U.S. soldiers in Vietnam were redeemed? Was he thinking that far ahead? Or was he doing what came naturally to him – being the partisan shill for his friends in the Democratic Party.
Rather himself insists he is non-partisan. But the facts betray this contention.
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.
Again, what does that suggest? A near obsession with the Vietnam War – perhaps the defining issue in Dan Rather’s ideology, his worldview.
And here we are fighting Vietnam all over again in 2004.
As for Rather’s non-partisanship, all you really have to know is that in 2001, he used his celebrity as a newsman to help raise money for the Democratic Party of Texas.
He broke a cardinal sin of journalistic ethics when he spoke to the fund-raiser. When he was busted, he apologized and characterized the decision as a grave error in judgment.
I’m sorry. I’ve been in the news business for 30 years. Ethical journalists don’t just make “mistakes” like that. I’ve been invited to speak to many political fund-raisers. I’ve never been tempted to accept. It’s a no-no. It’s unthinkable. Dan Rather probably gets dozens of speaking requests a month. He doesn’t just go out and do them without thinking. He wanted to do that fund-raiser for the Democratic Party of Texas. He wanted to do it badly.
Believe me, he even contemplated the risks of doing it. He knew it could end his career if he did it. And he did it anyway. What does that tell you?
It tells me he is a frustrated political activist, not a newsman. It tells me he’s got an ideological and partisan agenda behind what he does. It tells me he is willing to put at risk a $7 million a year job and his reputation, such as it is, to score a few cheap political points.
Worse yet, he was allowed to get away with this grave offense against his profession and his news organization back in 2001. This was the kind of offense that gets mere reporters and mere editors fired at other ethical news organizations. The fact that he survived probably emboldened him, made him feel more bulletproof.
And that confidence led directly to Rathergate 2.
Now nobody believes Dan Rather. Nobody believes CBS News. That’s great because there is no reason to believe them. They have squandered any credibility they had.
Thank you, Dan Rather, for accomplishing what so many of your critics could never do nearly as well as you.