NYT Says Dan Rather Right on GOP-CBS Conspiracy

Media reporter Jacques Steinberg's Monday story on disgraced former CBS anchorman Dan Rather's lawsuit against his old company CBS Newsclaimed "Rather's Lawsuit Shows Role of G.O.P. in Inquiry at CBS."

Actually, no, but Steinberg painted a flattering picture of Rather as a veteran journalist who still has his chops, even when pursuing a ludicrous lawsuit that's cost him much of whatever respect he'd still retained after CBS dropped him from the anchor chair.

Rather was disgraced in September 2004 when his "60 Minutes" piece on George W. Bush's Vietnam-era service record backfired when it was shown the documents purporting to prove Bush had gone AWOL from the National Guard were in fact not from the early '70s but recent creations of Microsoft Word. "Rathergate" ended the veteran anchorman's career at CBS, but he's still clawing at his old network in the courts, accusing them of trying to appease the GOP (yeah, right) with its inquiry into how the phony story came to be aired in the first place.

Steinberg stroked Rather's already-healthy sense of journalistic self-worth with his portrait of Rather, investigative reporter at large:

When Dan Rather filed suit against CBS 14 months ago - claiming, among other things, that his former employer had commissioned a politically biased investigation into his work on a "60 Minutes" segment about President Bush's National Guard service - the network predicted the quick and favorable dismissal of the case, which it derided as "old news."

So far, Mr. Rather has spent more than $2 million of his own money on the suit. And according to documents filed recently in court, he may be getting something for his money.

Using tools unavailable to him as a reporter - including the power of subpoena and the threat of punishment against witnesses who lie under oath - he has unearthed evidence that would seem to support his assertion that CBS intended its investigation, at least in part, to quell Republican criticism of the network.

Among the materials that money has shaken free for Mr. Rather are internal CBS memorandums turned over to his lawyers, showing that network executives used Republican operatives to vet the names of potential members of a panel that had been billed as independent and charged with investigating the "60 Minutes" segment.

What a shame that Rather didn't use some of that reportorial acumen on that sheaf of obviously phony National Guard documents.

And after you strip away that forbidding phrase about "Republican operatives," what Rather actually uncovered was far more benign.

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. 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."

If one were brainstorming a list of panel members, why would prominent conservatives be excluded?