Never shy about declaring his deep reverence for the notion of journalistic objectivity, Dan Rather has contended over the years that he is one journalist who has no “political agenda, inside, outside, downside, upside.” He has presented himself as an “honest broker of information” who “plays no favorites and pulls no punches.”
As he folded his hand, and became perhaps the last media professional in America to acknowledge that the CBS-acquired Bush Guard documents were fakes (although he could only tiptoe over to saying these forgeries could no longer be “vouched for journalistically”) on Monday, Rather couldn’t apologize without another desperate reassertion of his alleged lack of a liberal agenda: “We made a mistake in judgment, and for that I am sorry. It was an error that was made, however, in good faith and in the spirit of trying to carry on a CBS News tradition of investigative reporting without fear or favoritism.”
This statement must be refuted. CBS has a tradition all right–a tradition of last-minute sneak attacks in election years (e.g., Ross Perot crazily saying his daughter’s wedding was ruined by George H. W. Bush on 60 Minutes, nine days before the 1992 election). CBS has an everyday tradition of liberal hackwork. Favoritism is not a worry for the network–it is a forte.
Dan Rather wants the world to believe that he’s an equal-opportunity Columbo, pressing both sides to address hard facts and tough questions. Don’t you believe it. When it comes to the leading Democrats of our time, the fierce watchdog often goes soft and slobbery. First, let’s remember Dan’s coverage of this year’s Democratic primaries. This was the game of “hardball” CBS viewers could see on the eve of the New Hampshire primary:
To Howard Dean: “You know, it’s not uncommon when a campaign reaches this stage, for those who are working with a candidate to say, you know, I cannot get my candidate to stay on message. Have you heard that from your staff?”
To Wesley Clark: “True or untrue, that you expect to finish third, that’s where you’re hoping to finish?… What’s the basic Wesley Clark message in this campaign?… And General Wesley Clark’s strongest argument against another four years of a Bush administration is?”
To John Edwards: “If you finish fourth or below here, can you, will you carry on? … You must have had a moment that you said to yourself, you know what? I don’t think this is going to work… What question bores you the most on these bus rides from one stop to another?”
When Rather sat down with John Kerry before the Boston convention, he might have really opened a can of Anchorman Dan, like the whupping he tried to give Bush 41 in January of 1988, when he famously yelled: “You made us hypocrites in the face of the world!” Instead, 2004 found Dan trying this line of, well, not-attack: “Speaking of angry, have you ever had any anger about President Bush–who spent his time during the Vietnam War in the National Guard–running, in effect, a campaign that does its best to diminish your service in Vietnam? You have to be at least irritated by that, or have you been?” Even Dan’s questions to Kerry display Rather’s loathing of Bush.
Rest assured, Rather’s love affair with the Clintons never dies. In June, he helped Bill through another fawning interview session around his auto-lie-ography My Life. It was especially embarrassing for CBS when Dan took up time on 60 Minutes recounting how Clinton was so angry over the adultery questions that he went on 60 Minutes in 1992–as if Clinton hadn’t booked the interview for that very point!
Rather showed that same shoeshine-boy deference on 60 Minutes II on March 31, 1999, during the first post-impeachment TV interview with President Clinton. Not only were the impeachment questions tender, so were questions on subjects like war in Kosovo: “Mr. President, as you always try to do, you’re talking in measured tones. As President of the United States you have to be careful of what you say. But I’m told by those close to you that you have a lot of pent-up feelings about what’s happening in the Balkans, what we’re doing there. Can you share some of that with us?”
Then in May of that year, Rather repeated the favor for Hillary, gushing over her possible Senate campaign. My colleague Brent Baker couldn’t get over the fawning lines and questions coming from Mr. Plays-No-Favorites-And-Pulls-No-Punches:
“For whom do you root, the Mets or the Yankees?”
“First Lady Hillary Clinton is a political superstar.”
“Once a political lightning rod, today she is political lightning.”
“It’s hard to know what keeps her going through marital problems made public, political fights turned ugly, through triumphs, disasters, and always the demands of her work.”
“The agenda she lays out seems downright old-fashioned. She sees her work as focusing on children and families….”
“What are the possibilities that one day, some day you’ll run for president?”
“Of all the allegations, accusations, charges made what do you consider to be the most unfair attack?”
The list is endless, but I’d just like to conclude with a few lines from Dan’s CBS Radio commentaries to give you a deeper sense of how Dan can enjoy the echo of singing one of his old favorite train songs from within the liberal tank.
Once again, to 1999. On May 20, Defense Secretary Bill Cohen got a radio salute from Gunga Dan: “He is a trim, muscular man of medium height and steady blue eyes. He is a former prosecutor, mayor, congressman and senator. Which is to say: Politically he did not just tumble off the turnip truck. The war, he says, is going better, much better, than perhaps most Americans know. The vice tightens on Slobodan Milosevic every day and night, Cohen says, with NATO casualties practically nil…. In word and spirit, he radiates the promise and the determination that we will win…. Others may not believe it. He does, and so does the president, as the war heads into its third month.” This is the same Dan Rather who asked Saddam Hussein if the Gulf War was “Vietnam in the sand for the United States.”
But that was then (Clinton), this is now (Bush). On April 30, 1999, Rather suddenly condemned giving aid and comfort to the enemy. “The finger-pointing, backside-covering, and back-stabbing going on in Washington gives Milosevic and his people pleasure. It’s to their benefit… Who could blame the Serbs for believing that, as a war capital, Washington owes much to the early work of the Marx Brothers? Sad but true, as long as the blame game rages.”
The real clincher came less than a month later, on May 12, when Rather joined the usual parade of punch-pullers in hailing the sheer genius of Robert Rubin, who was apparently the Shaq-zilla of the economy. “Make no mistake: When a strong, valuable player such as Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin goes out of your government’s lineup, it’s a loss. Quarterback Joe Montana leaving the 49ers. Dame Margot Fonteyn quitting the British Royal Ballet. Whatever analogy you may want to make, nobody loses a player such as this and fails to feel the effects. Rubin has been one of the major reasons the U.S. economy has done so well under President Clinton, after the down times of the late Bush administration and some of the Reagan years.” He added, in discussing allegations that his claims about the economy were partisan, that “it is not partisan to say that during the Clinton years the economy has been outstandingly good. That’s a fact.”
And so is the way in which Dan Rather, on an almost daily basis, has betrayed his liberal political agenda, inside, outside, downside, upside.
–Tim Graham is director of media analysis at the Media Research Center and an NRO contributor.