Dan Rather: a shameless rehabilitation

Robert Redford

One of our top ten stooges for 2015 was Robert Redford, whom we celebrated for his movie Truth, which turned Dan Rather’s career-ending violation of basic journalistic principles into a virtue. For those readers too young to remember this episode, Rather, while serving as anchorman of the CBS Evening News – at the time, probably the most powerful position in American journalism – had, yes, in the weeks preceding the 2004 presidential election, presented his audience with forged documents, purportedly dating back to the typewriter era, meant to smear the military career of George W. Bush, who was then running for re-election as president of the United States.

Dan Rather

For those who lived through the scandal, it was sad – or almost sad, depending on how you felt about Rather in the first place – to watch him doing himself in in such a seemingly self-destructive manner. The documents in question were patently forged. Anybody old enough to remember what typed documents looked like before the age of computers could see immediately that these things were fakes. Not only were they fakes, they were terrible fakes, obviously produced on a modern computer and not an old-fashioned typewriter. And somebody as old as old Dan should have immediately recognized them as such. But either he was consciously determined to lie to destroy George W. Bush’s chances of re-election, or he was just so eager to bring Bush down that he sincerely bought into the fakes, out of sheer self-deception.

Lanford Beard

It came to be known as Rathergate. He and CBS parted company in 2005. He was 73. But because he’d sacrificed his career to destroy George W. Bush’s career, a lot of people on the left were determined to resurrect his reputation. As noted, Redford devoted a whole movie to the proposition that Rather had presented his viewers not with a lie but with the truth. And the rehabilitation effort continues. In its May 1 issue, Lanford Beard, a young TV writer for People Magazine, trumpeted “Dan Rather’s Unexpected Comeback”:

As a veteran journalist of 67 years, Dan Rather has had ample opportunity to master the art of keeping things in perspective even during the most unsettled eras — he was on the scene for JFK’s assassination, reported on Civil Rights and Watergate, and literally dodged bullets in Vietnam, for starters. Now, as America finds itself in what many consider another defining political and cultural moment, the legendary former CBS Evening News anchor has found more reason than ever to offer his steady, thoughtful point of view on the events of the day.

Beard actually tried to sell the line that during the 2016 presidential campaign, when almost everyone else was covering silly day-to-day details, Rather, writing on his own website as well as on Facebook, had been able to “offer a larger picture” thanks to his “historical perspective.” (That “larger picture,” unsurprisingly, consisted of familiar anti-Trump rhetoric.) As for Rathergate, Beard whitewashed it to a breathtaking degree – perhaps because she (born in the 1980s) is too young to remember it firsthand and has relied for details on older people who share her and Rather’s politics.

Ann Marie Cox

But the New York Times Magazine had beat Beard to its Rather coverup. In an interview published in that rag’s April 13 issue, the Times‘s Ana Marie Cox defended Rather as an “early target of internet fact-finding” – then quickly proceeded, as Tim Graham of Newsbusters put it, to treat him “like a Wise Man on the future of journalism.” What next? Presumably Rather, now 85, won’t be with us very much longer, but before he’s gone the usual suspects may well have succeeded in transforming him from an exposed and disgraced liar to an icon – so that by the time he shuffles off this mortal coil, he’s get obituaries in all the right places painting him as a hero and victim.

Top ten stooges of 2015: part two

Yesterday we looked at the first five of our top ten useful stooges of 2015. Here are the rest. Again, these aren’t necessarily the very worst creeps we’ve written about here; they’re just a few of the people whose stoogery during the last year stood out in ways that we thought made them worth another quick look before we move on into 2016. 

vickKarl Vick  The dopey Time scribe gushed more than once in 2015 over Cuba’s “decaying glory” and “social equality” – by which he meant that every Cuban who’s not a member of the political elite is dirt-poor – and expressed concern that capitalism-friendly changes in that island prison might end this precious “equality” by actually raising the standard of living. This is the same guy who in 2010 won a “Dishonest Reporting Award” for a cover story, “Why Israel Doesn’t Care about Peace,” in which he vilified Israel and whitewashed Hamas, professing that its official commitment to destroying the Jewish state was only “nominal.”

cohen4Stephen F. Cohen  How could we leave Stephen F. Cohen out of this? He’s Putin’s most high-profile apologist, who – usually in league with his wife, moneyed Nation doyenne Katrina vanden Heuvel – keeps coming up with new ways to sell his hero in Moscow. In 2015, he co-founded the American Committee for East-West Accord, which pretends to promote “open, civilized, informed debate” on U.S.-Russian relations but, in the grand tradition of “committees” dedicated to U.S.-Soviet “peace,” “friendship,” and “understanding,” is patently nothing more or less than a pro-Kremlin propaganda operation. This is, after all, a dude who, in a June article, painted Ukraine’s leaders as savages and Putin as a gentle soul responding with restraint to their violent provocations. 

redfordRobert Redford  He’s directed movies crudely savaging capitalism (The Milagro Beanfield War) and lustily celebrating the despicable Maoists of the Weather Underground (The Company You Keep), and he produced The Motorcycle Diaries, a shameless hagiography of Che Guevara. In 2015 he played the lead role in Truth, one of the great cinematic falsehoods (and, fortunately, flops) in the entire history of Hollywood. Turning the facts of the 2004 Rathergate scandal upside down, the film transforms CBS Evening News anchorman Dan Rather – who lost his job for trying to sell the public on forged documents – into a hero who was fired for defending the truth. When this dreck was released in October, Redford, now 79, was out there promoting not only the picture but its profoundly mendacious message.  

seumas-milneSeumas Milne  The British Labour Party’s Executive Director of Strategy and Communications (i.e., spokesman), who was named to the post in October, is a famously poisonous critic of the U.S., capitalism, and Israel, and an ardent defender of Communism, Stalin, Castro, Che, Ahmadinejad, and Putin. Oh, and jihadists. A longtime reporter and commentator for The Guardian, Milne has praised the Soviet bloc for its “genuine idealism” and lamented West Germany’s annexation of East Germany because it meant “a loss of women’s rights, closure of free nurseries and mass unemployment.” Journalist Kate Godfrey, herself a Labourite, condemned Milne’s appointment as “morally and ethically wrong,” saying it “devalues everything that Labour stands for, and everything that Labour is.”

roger_waters1Roger Waters  For years, the former Pink Floyd front man has publicly compared Israel to Nazi Germany and severely chastized fellow celebrities for performing there. In 2013, his concerts featured “a pig-shaped balloon adorned with Jewish symbols, including a Star of David.” This October, in a particularly vicious open letter in Salon (where else?), he told Bon Jovi that by accepting an invitation to Israel they were allying themselves with child-killers. Ignoring his demand that they change their mind about the trip, Bon Jovi went ahead with their plans and went onstage before a Tel Aviv audience of 50,000 only minutes after two people were killed in a Jerusalem terrorist attack.

True lies: Robert Redford and the Dan Rather story

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Robert Redford

We’ve been looking at Robert Redford‘s long record as a producer, director, and/or star of several high-budget (and usually low-box-office) pieces of vintage Hollywood propaganda. His latest vehicle won’t be out until October, but if you look at the source material, at the comments he and others have made about the picture before and during its production, and at his own ideology as revealed in his previous films, you can get a pretty clear picture of what’s in store for us. He isn’t the producer or director, but he’s the star, and given the nature of the material, he surely wouldn’t have taken the role if he didn’t believe wholeheartedly in the picture and its message.

dan_rather_AP
Dan Rather

Truth: that’s its title. Written and directed by James Vanderbilt, it professes to set forth the facts about why Dan Rather, after 24 years as anchor of the CBS Evening News, was asked by the network to resign in 2005 in the wake of the so-called Rathergate scandal. Redford plays Rather; Cate Blanchett plays Mary Mapes, the 60 Minutes producer who was fired as a result of her involvement in the scandal and whose book, Truth and Duty: The Press, the President, and the Privilege of Power, was the basis for Vanderbilt’s script.

DALLAS, TX - JULY 10: Former President George W. Bush speaks during Naturalization Ceremony at the George W. Bush Presidential Center on July 10, 2013 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Cooper Neill/WireImage)
George W. Bush

A brief history of the scandal. It began with a set of documents that purported to cast an unflattering light on President George W. Bush’s service in the National Guard from 1968 to 1974. The documents came into Mapes’s hands and, on September 4, 2004, less than two months before the presidential election, were presented as authentic in a 60 Minutes segment on which Rather was the correspondent. The story began to collapse immediately – because the documents, bearing dates in the early 1970s, had plainly been typed many years later on a computer with proportional spacing. In other words, they were forgeries that only an idiot (or somebody born after the 1970s who’d never seen a typewritten page from that decade) would fall for. Yet even as the criticism mounted, Rather and Mapes stubbornly kept maintaining that the documents were genuine.

Killian_memos_MSWord_animated
In 2004, using the program’s default settings, blogger Charles Johnson typed out in Microsoft Word the text of one of the 60 Minutes documents supposedly written in 1973, then superimposed the new text over the “old” one, thus providing dramatic evidence that the “old” document was not as old as claimed

At first CBS backed them up; on September 20, however, the network reversed itself. An independent review panel was formed, and in the end it criticized CBS severely for having spent more than two weeks defending the indefensible. From the beginning, of course, critics charged that Rather and others at CBS News had aired the National Guard story because they wanted to dent Bush’s chances of re-election; Rather, of course, denied this. And Mapes, in her book and elsewhere, dismissed the entire issue of proportional spacing, claiming that members of the “Bush camp” had disingenuously raised “really obscure type-face issues” to convince ignorant Americans that the documents had been forged. The “Bush camp,” she argued, was intent on “sliming anyone who raised questions about the president.”

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We couldn’t find a picture of Redford with Castro, but here’s a picture of a picture of Redford with Castro

This, then, is the “truth” that Redford’s forthcoming movie (which, by the way, Rather himself has enthusiastically promoted) will apparently present. On the contrary, the movie’s “truth” is the very opposite of the truth: whatever one may think of George W. Bush, the fact is that Rather and Mapes were the ones who were engaged in “sliming,” using transparently fake documents to try to smear him – and then, when countless people who had nothing to do with Bush reacted publicly to the manifest fakeness of the documents, turning around and claiming that his “camp” had been involved in “sliming” them.

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A recent picture of Redford and his wife with New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and his wife

The entire premise of the film is that Rather and Mapes lost their jobs because they’d stood up for the truth; in reality they lost their jobs as just payment for clinging to a lie.

How can Redford involve himself in such a project? Because for him, as one after another of his movies has richly demonstrated, the concept of “truth” isn’t about real truth – about, that is, the hard facts. It’s about the “higher” truth – the revealed truth, as it were – that emerges when you look at the world through the lens of the ideology that has made Redford, for decades, such a splendid stooge for the likes of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. And it’s clear that Dan Rather, when viewed by Redford through that lens, is on the side of the angels.