Adding a ‘Cloak of Secrecy': CBS News on Rathergate

The discovery process in Dan Rather‘s ongoing $70 million lawsuit against his former employers at CBS and Viacom continues to dig up internal documents that network executives would probably prefer to keep out of the public eye.

Yesterday, The Observer sifted through the latest batch submitted into court.

One interesting nugget: according to documents recently submitted into evidence, in the fall of 2004, CBS executives apparently took steps to disguise that they had hired an investigative firm (to look into the network’s flawed report on President Bush‘s military service) which had ties to Republican pol Rudolf Giuliani.

To wit: in the fall of 2004, facing increasing public pressure–in part from conservative bloggers who were portraying CBS News‘ flawed report on the President’s military service as just another instance of liberal bias run amok–CBS executives decided to hire an outside investigative firm to look into the problematic story, which had initially aired on 60 Minutes Wednesday on Sept. 8, 2004.

By October, network executives had settled on the investigative firm of SafirRosetti–a New York-based company lead, in part, by Howard Safir, the former New York City Fire Commissioner and New York City Police Commissioner, who had been nominated to both positions by then Mayor Giuliani.   

At one point that fall, Thomas Cowley, a regional managing director at SafirRosetti, began working on the CBS account. As part of the investigation, SafirRosetti had hired Erik T. Rigler a former Navy aviator and F.B.I. agent to get to the bottom of the controversial documents at the heart of the affair.

On October 1, 2004, Mr. Cowley sent an email to one of his colleagues, specifying how the company would be billing CBS for all the field work. “We are presenting ourselves as ‘Valley Associates,'” he wrote at the time. “CBS wants to keep Howard [Safir] in the background.”

Why?

“Valley was a shell company used to purposefully disguise the identity of his real employer, SafirRosetti, because of the close association of its principal, Howard Safir, with leading Republican Rudolf Giuliani,” Mr. Rather’s lawyers allege in a recent memorandum to the court.

In support of the claim, Mr. Rather’s legal team has also submitted into evidence a set of hand-written notes which Mr. Cowley made on Sept. 30, 2004.

“Billed to Valley Associates,” wrote Mr. Cowley.

And then, on the next line of his note pad: “Add a cloak of secrecy.”

And finally: “Keep Howard Safir’s name out-aligned with Rudolf Giuliani.”