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.
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.
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.
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.