- NEW YORK -- Newly-unearthed
records reveal that, in 2004, when Americans were in the midst of a brutal
electoral battle over whether to reelect a president posing as a war hero,
a commanding US reporter, Dan Rather, went AWOL.
- Just three months before the election, Rather had a story
that might have changed the outcome of that razor-close race. We
now know that Dan cut a back-room deal to shut his mouth, grab his ankles,
and let his network retract a story he knew to be absolutely true.
- In September 2004 when Rather cowered, Bush was riding
high in the polls. Now, with Bush's approval ratings are below
smallpox, Rather has come out of hiding to shoot at the lame duck. Thanks,
- It began on September 8, 2004, when Rather, on CBS, ran
a story that Daddy Bush Senior had, in 1968, put in the fix to get his
baby George out of the Vietnam War and into the Texas Air National Guard.
Little George then rode out the war defending Houston from Viet Cong attack.
- The story is stone-cold solid. I know, because
we ran it on BBC Television a year before CBS (see that broadcast here). BBC
has never retracted a word of it.
- But CBS caved. So did Dan.
- That's according to Rather's written confession, his
law suit, which is as much a shameful set of admissions as it is a legal
complaint. In the suit filed Thursday, Rather tells us that Sumner Redstone,
CEO of Viacom, owner of CBS, was "enraged that the [Air Guard] Broadcast
had hurt CBS in the eyes of the Bush administration." Viacom
then set out to, "divert public attention from the accurate facts
reported in the Broadcast concerning President Bush's service (and lack
thereof) in the TexANG during the Vietnam War; and enable CBS and Viacom
to curry favor with the White House."
- Redstone roared and Dan, hearing his Dark Lord's voice,
admits he then "refrained from defending" the truths in the Broadcast.
Dan shut his mouth, he confesses, in return for 30 pieces of Viacom silver:
a promise that "his contract would be extended."
- Had Rather stood up to the Viacommunist thugs and defended
his story, President Kerry and our nation could today express gratitude
for his public service. Instead, Dan traded the public interest for airtime
on 60 Minutes. Yuck.
- Now Dan is shocked to find that the network snakes didn't
live up to their slimey bargain with him. Well, Dan, that's
what happens with snakes. Get in bed with them and wake up slimed.
- The Story Still Not Reported
- By contrast, BBC never backed down from the story of
the fix that got Little George out of 'Nam. We had a smoking hot document [view
and an interview with the crucial source: the man who confessed
to making the call for Bush to the head of the Air Guard.
- No, I won't give you his name. I don't expose
sources - unlike Dan and CBS. That's another thing that makes
me just FURIOUS. Rather revealed, then blamed, a source, retired
Air Guard officer Lt. Col. Bill Burkett. Burkett, an Abilene
rancher, is a courageous, stand-up guy. [See The
Real Lt. Col. Burkett]. But after standing up with Dan,
he was ruined, ostracized from the cattle business. No one would
sell him feed. Dan got a multi-million dollar kiss-off from
Viacom. Burkett got dead cows and bankruptcy.
- And there's more. More that Dan didn't report. As
I said, Dan picked up an old story, one that I reported, as did others,
in 1999. But we added our discovery of a confidential document which
had walked its way out of the files of the US Department of Justice. It
was a whistleblower statement that explained why the Lt. Governor of Texas,
Ben Barnes, who arranged for George W. to get into the Air Guard, kept
silent about it for 35 years. It states that, in 1997, Governor George
W. Bush overruled his state's Lottery director and gave a billion-dollar
contract to a company tied to Barnes. Barnes received a cool
fee of $23 million from the contractor.
- This is a devastating accusation. And one that's more
serious than the scandal of a draft-dodging rich kid's vile use of daddy's
connections three decades ago. Here was evidence of gross abuse of public
office by Governor Bush to pay off a crony who kept silent while Bush ran
for the presidency.
- US Reporting - Don't Ask, Don't Tell
- But how could I expect Rather to take on the tough story
when he wouldn't stand by the easy one? In June 2002, two years before
his media lynching, Rather explained his Fear of Reporting in an interview
on BBC Television (cautiously, to a European audience only):
- "It's an obscene comparison but there was a time
in South Africa when people would put flaming tires around people's necks
if they dissented. In some ways, the fear is that you will be neck-laced
here, you will have a flaming tire of lack of patriotism put around your
neck. It's that fear that keeps journalists from asking the toughest of
the tough questions and to continue to bore-in on the tough questions so
often. Again, I'm humbled to say I do not except myself from this criticism."
- This is what's so frustrating about Dan Rather. He's
two people: a real journalist locked inside a television news-actor begging
for air-time. Indeed, disgustingly, in his law suit, he conceals his inner
reporter by claiming he only "narrated" the draft dodge story.
- But what about all those other preening birds on the
chicken ranch known as US television news? Rather tells us he wasn't alone
in failing to ask tough questions. Not one damn US reporter asked Bush
at a press conference, "Yes or no, Mr. President: Did your daddy call
Ben Barnes to get you out of the war in Vietnam?"
- [For the record, BBC did ask for the President's denial
or admission. We got none. And when Dan's CBS boss, Leslie Moonves, said
Dan's story, "ignored information that cast doubt" on the revelation
that Bush Sr. put in the fix to get his son into the Air Guard, I asked
Moonves to provide that information. In fact, I offered him $100,000 for
his info which would have shown Dan's story false. He never produced
- The same week Dan confessed that he agreed to shut up,
a journalism student, Andrew Meyer of Florida, insisted on asking tough
questions of the man Bush defeated, John Kerry. For Andrew's impertinence,
he was hit with 50,000 volts from a taser.
- Andrew is just a student and still needs a couple of
lessons in posing questions properly. (Lesson One: "Wear a grounding
wire.") But Andrew has the next lesson down pat: ask the question
they don't want to hear when they don't want to hear it. Rather could use
a few lessons in journalism himself - from Andrew - about taking the heat
for the story.
- Seeing Andrew's arrest and Dan's complaint, I was
thinking that perhaps, instead of tase-ing those reporters who ask
questions, we might tase those who don't.
- Greg Palast is the author of "The Necklace-ing of
Dan Rather" in the New York Times bestselling book