"Democracy cannot survive, much less thrive, with the level of big corporate and big government interference and intimidation in news," said Dan Rather.
It was Thursday night, and Mr. Rather was sitting across from Larry King, explaining, one suspender-wearing newsman to another, why he was suing CBS for $70 million. “I’ve never been clearer in my mind,” Mr. Rather later said. ""It's the right stand at the right time on the right issue."
>> Read the full transcript of the interview here.
>> Watch a four-minute clip of the interview here.
But for the duration of Thursday night’s much anticipated interview on CNN, Mr. Rather didn’t sound like a man clear in his mind so much as a man in search of clarity.
Long after the rest of the world had moved on, Mr. Rather still wanted answers. Answers about President Bush’s military records. Answers about Les Moonves’ oversight of CBS News. Answers about White House intimidation. Answers about the Thornburgh and Boccardi panel that ultimately sealed his fate at the network. And he wanted them under oath.
“I’m the person who stepped forward and said, okay, I’m ready to go under oath,” said Mr. Rather. “I’m ready to be deposed. The question is, ‘Are they?’ Because that’s the only way you’re going to get the truth of what happened at CBS News.”
Over the past three years, many talented American journalists had tried to get the truth of what had happened at CBS News in the prelude and aftermath of Mr. Rather’s flawed report on 60 Minutes II that portrayed President George W. Bush as an artful dodger trading on a bogus record as a national guardsman on the eve of his reelection. By now everyone knows the rest of the story: Documents produced by CBS News were exposed by bloggers as having been created using word processors that weren't available back when they were supposed to have been created. America had had done with them: they were forgeries. But, in Mr. Rather’s estimation, the investigation has still only just begun, and the next stage requires not so much reporters as lawyers.
Would he call off his lawyers, Mr. King asked, if CBS offered him a nice settlement package?
“A strictly financial package?” said Mr. Rather. “Absolutely not.”
Mr. King played a clip from Mr. Rather’s appearance on the Larry King Live show in June, 2005. “I’m not a victim of anything except my own shortcomings,” said Mr. Rather at the time.
Yet here he was back on the show some two years later, Mr. King pointed out, claiming to be a victim of White House intimidation and corporate cowardice. What had changed?
“I didn’t know then what I know now,” said Mr. Rather. “I played team,” he said.
But now he thinks the team played him.
“They succeeded in doing it,” said Mr. Rather. “Some of it they did in secret, talking among themselves.”
Putting aside all the other reasons he gave for the lawsuit, like the rest of us, Mr. Rather wants to know what they–Les Moonves, Summer Redstone, Andrew Heyward et al–were saying to each other when the scandal broke, after they stood by the report, when they decided no longer to stand by the report, and why, when the investigation into the source of those documents hit a dead end, the investigation seemed to terminate with the exit of Mr. Rather.
If the suit goes forward, whether it redounds to Mr. Rather's benefit or not, we are likely to find out.