REVISIONIST HISTORY: CBS Sunday Morning Sugarcoats Dan Rather’s Legacy

News & Politics

On CBS This Morning, correspondent Lee Cowan ran a lifetime achievement profile of disgraced anchor Dan Rather that seemed weirdly valedictory. But the profile omitted the most significant detail of Rather’s legacy at CBS.

Watch as Cowan and Rather whitewash the document controversy that led to Rather’s downfall at CBS, and established him as the father of Fake News- as aired on CBS Sunday Morning on Sunday, April 28th, 2024 (click “expand”):

DAN RATHER: Dan Rather, CBS News, became sort of all part of my name. A part of my identity.

LEE COWAN: And you have interviewed how many presidents?

RATHER: I’d have to count. Every one since Truman.

COWAN: Gosh!

This is the first time he has appeared on this network since.

RATHER: Without apology or explanation. I miss CBS. I’ve missed it since the day I left there.

COWAN: Even at 92, how and why he left still stings.

RATHER: In the heart of every reporter worthy of the name, Lee, there is a message that news, real news, is what somebody somewhere, particularly somebody in power, doesn’t want you to know. That’s news.

COWAN: And that’s what got him into trouble.

TOM BROKAW: NBC News in depth tonight, the black eye at CBS News. Today, CBS News anchor Dan Rather and the news division…

COWAN: In 2004, Rather filed a report for 60 Minutes 2 that questioned George W. Bush’s service record in the Texas Air National Guard.

RATHER: Tonight, we have new documents and new information on the president’s military service…

COWAN: But the documents on which Rather and his producer based their reporting could not be later authenticated.

RATHER: It was a mistake. CBS News deeply regrets it. Also, I want to say personally and directly, I’m sorry.

COWAN: Was that the lowest point for you, you think?

RATHER: Of course it was the lowest point. I gave CBS News everything I had. They had smarter, better, more talented people, but they didn’t have anybody who worked any harder than I did.

CBS’s Lee Cowan tells us one firehouse within sight of Ground Zero has had its heart cut out.

COWAN: I’d only been at CBS a few years by then, during which Dan Rather had kindly and unexpectedly taken me under his wing and made me feel welcome. 

You told me once it’s not the question, but it’s the follow-up. That that’s…

RATHER: Yes. Well, that’s true.

COWAN: That’s more important?

RATHER: I hope you’ll not be following up today.

COWAN: Minus the suspenders and his cigars, Rather remains just as I remember him. An intently curious…

RATHER: I’ll ring you back in about ten. Thanks.

COWAN: Thoughtful, well-read skeptic who wants nothing more than to wear out his shoe leather chasing the next headline.  

Cowan does his level best to retcon Rathergate into an authentication problem. But the MRC remembers. As Rich Noyes noted:

Just eight weeks before election day, in a September 8, 2004 report on 60 Minutes, Rather claimed “new” evidence showing Bush received “preferential treatment” during his Vietnam-era service in the Texas Air National Guard.

“Newly discovered documents spark new questions,” Rather hyped that night on his CBS Evening News. “CBS News has exclusive information, including documents, that now sheds new light on the President’s service record.”

The documents in question were supposedly from Bush’s commanding officer, Lt. Col. Jerry Killian, typed on his office typewriter decades before computers and word processors became common in the workplace. It didn’t take long before observers on the Internet highlighted how the “newly discovered documents” looked more like something whipped up in Microsoft Word using the default Times Roman font than on an early 1970s typewriter.

It wasn’t an authentication problem but a forgery. A forgery in service of a cheap hit job eight weeks before Election Day, back when there was still such a thing as Election Day. 

Rathergate ended up being a seminal moment inasmuch as what was then known as “new media” confronted and exposed blatant news, and took down a heretofore unassailable mainstream media giant. 

Cowan and CBS ignore that discrepancy in order to accommodate their valedictory item. Such a blatant omission of history is as much of a fakery as was Rathergate, which is Rather’s ultimate legacy. No matter how hard CBS and Cowan try to spin otherwise.

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