60 Minutes Chief: Dan Rather's Work 'Not Even Close to the Standards We Expect'

Sunday's Los Angeles Times had an update on Dan Rather's continuing lawsuit against CBS News over what Dan might call the "forged-memos-to-torpedo-Bush's-re-election-in-2004 scandal." Rather scalded CBS with language he used to save exclusively for conservatives: "Their strategy is to string it out, wear me out, suck the will from me, and make it so painful on the pocketbook that I want to give up....But I don't think anybody who knows me would say that there's any give-up in me."

But media writer Matea Gold said CBS had also "made available several executives who spoke acidly about the anchor whose work they once touted." 60 Minutes executive producer Jeff Fager trashed Rather's work as deficient: "I hate to say it in public, but many of [his] stories were not even close to the standards we expect at 60 Minutes."

Gold also said that Rather's pursuit of CBS has brought to light the fact that the ex-Evening News anchor was turned down for jobs at: ABC, NBC, CNN, A&E, History, HBO, Discovery and National Geographic.

At one point, National Geographic even hired disgraced ex-CNN reporter Peter Arnett (part of the discredited Operation Tailwind reporting team), so that one has to really hurt. On the other hand, National Geographic then had to fire Arnett in 2003 after he appeared on Iraqi state TV during the last days of the Saddam Hussein regime to claim the U.S. war plan had "failed," so maybe they learned from the experience.

Here are some excerpts from Gold's August 16 feature on Rather and his lawsuit:

"I think it was hard for him to sit there listening to the eulogies for Walter Cronkite as the most trusted man in America, knowing he would never have that," said a former CBS employee who left the network in the fallout over the Bush story. Rather is financing his lawsuit alone, at significant expense. But perhaps more dear has been the personal price. After working for 44 years at CBS, 24 of those as the face of the network, he is now persona non grata.

At Cronkite's funeral last month, prominent CBS figures filled the front pews of St. Bartholomew's Church in Midtown Manhattan. Rather sat apart, about 10 rows back.

He refers to his former CBS colleagues as "our adversaries." CBS is pushing back at him in increasingly vituperative language. The network made available several executives who spoke acidly about the anchor whose work they once touted.

"I just think it's sad that Dan can't do what the rest of the people involved in this have done, which is stood up and been accountable for their role in what was a huge embarrassment in the history of the news division," said Andrew Heyward, the former president of CBS News.

"It's hard to watch," said Jeff Fager, executive producer of "60 Minutes." "It's like he is in some paranoid nightmare where everybody is out to get him. We're all witnessing the poor guy thrashing around, tormented.

"I can't for the life of me understand why he's doing this, how he could turn such a storied career into this train wreck," he added....

Fager said Rather had one of the largest staffs at "60 Minutes," but much of his work was not well-conceived. "I hate to say it in public, but many of [his] stories were not even close to the standards we expect at '60 Minutes,' " Fager said....

The suit has also forced Rather to dredge up details that he'd probably prefer to keep private, including a round of meetings he had in spring 2006 with CNN/U.S. President Jon Klein, ABC News President David Westin and NBC News President Steve Capus, all of whom politely declined his services. A slew of other networks, including A&E, History, HBO, Discovery and National Geographic, also turned Rather down.

The anchor recently extended his deal with HDNet, where he has a weekly news show, and hopes to work there "as long as I can go." He's planning a reporting trip to Afghanistan in the coming months.

Rather said he doesn't fret about his legacy. "My record is my record," he said, ticking off the tent-pole events of the last half-century that he has covered: the assassination of President Kennedy, Watergate, the Gulf War, the Iraq war, Tiananmen Square, the Sept. 11 attacks.

But will this particular story forever overshadow all of that? The usually loquacious newsman leaned back in his chair, silent for a moment.

"I have no idea," he said quietly. "Ever is a long time."

-Rich Noyes is Research Director at the Media Research Center.