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Rather Deserves Better

Somewhere in the middle of all this, there's a moral to the story. Monday's New York Post gossip piece tells of a soon-to-be-released book on ex-CBS anchor Dan Rather in which colleague Morley Safer and others unload on the man who was once the brightest star in the network's news firmament.

According to the Post piece, here are a few choice quotes:

Rather is also raked over the coals by co-workers for the dubious handling of his report on President George W. Bush's alleged lousy Air National Guard service record. Rather continued to defend the story even after it was found to be based on forged documents. "It's the same thing he did over and over again. You know, 'Don't tell me I'm wrong," former CBS News president Ed Joyce told Weisman, who himself was a CBS newswriter and producer.

"In my opinion he was guilty of journalistic malpractice," Joyce says. "To go out on a limb with that sort of thin sourcing and then, when you get caught, go on the 'CBS Evening News' defending it in such an arrogant fashion was wrong."

Producer Richard Cohen said, "This is the story of Macbeth. It's about someone who was so seized by his own ambition that he forgot everything else. All he wanted to do was anchor the 'Evening News' - in fact, he wanted to be the 'Evening News.' "

Today's  Post follow up  states what may be the obvious --  that Rather won't be working in any capacity at the network when his contract ends later this year. Here's a seemingly knowing quote from an anonymous source.

"But it doesn't seem like [CBS] wants him there" now, says an industry insider.

Now let's transit over to today's Huffington Post, where Mary Mapes -- the producer who lost her job in the wake of that ill-fated Sept. 8 2004 "60 Minutes Wednesday" report on George Bush's military record --  is vigorously defending that story and Rather despite the growing ranks of critics. I don't plan on revisiting the issue of how CBS reported that Bush story, but I am interested in her take on her former boss. Here are two relevant excerpts:

My own theory about why Dan seems to drive some of his colleagues so crazy is pretty mundane. I think he is a hard-working, ambitious, driven individual who committed the great sin of reaching the peak of his profession. Dan wielded his influence and made decisions in ways that some didn't like, but then that happens in every workplace in America. Only at CBS do high profile employees turn up constantly in public openly attacking someone who has for years had the grace to keep from answering in kind. You never see this kind of internal fighting explode at ABC or NBC or even FOX. It's a shame that no one in leadership at CBS has ever had the guts to tell these guys to grow up and shut up.

I have never seen Dan Rather behave in a cruel way. I have never heard him trash a fellow reporter at CBS in anything approaching the way he has been talked about publicly. I have seen him work his butt off in terrible conditions, stay up all night to get the facts right, and help younger, greener reporters struggling with tough stories. I have seen him give away his coat in freezing weather to someone whose teeth were chattering. He is a good guy and a great reporter, simply one of the best, as tireless and true blue as this country has ever seen.

I have had my own limited experience with Rather -- including two lengthy interviews with him in his New York office, the second under very trying conditions as he was about to prematurely exit his "CBS Evening News" anchor post. I found him decent, responsive and warm -- a guy you'd want to have a beer with. But that's neither here nor there. Whatever one thinks about Rather, whether you're a conservative who considers him a liberal bogeyman or a viewer who found his volatile on-air personality to be too unsettling or a big fan, his treatment by colleagues and bosses at the network news operation that he once led is appalling. Dan Rather was a big part of the franchise, and to turn him into a pinata now and kick him unceremoniously to the curb (to mix metaphors) is inexcusable on the most basic human level.

Thinks about it. You spend your whole career at one company, becoming one of its most important and top producers. You get old, you're eventually replaced, and booted out of the big office. Not only don't you get a dignified resting spot somewhere else in the company, not only don't you get a gold watch and a vacation in Hawaii, but at the next splashy corporate dinner, you're the butt of the emcee's jokes. In my view, that's basically what's happening to Rather.

I haven't seen anyone fall out of favor so completely with his old employer since Johnny Damon put on the pinstripes.


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