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Notes and observations on the press, politics, culture, technology, and more. To sign up for e-mail delivery, click here. To send an e-mail to Dan Kennedy, click here. For bio, published work, and links to other blogs, visit

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

NOT THE FIRST TIME. Okay, I stand corrected on my "What is the frequency, Kenneth?" crack about Dan Rather yesterday. Today, though, I want to share something I stumbled across recently while doing some research for the media-law class I teach at Northeastern University.

You might think that basing a high-profile investigative report on phony documents would be a once-in-a-career event - mainly because afterwards you wouldn't have a career to go back to. But it turns out that the fiasco over George W. Bush's National Guard documents was not the first time Dan Rather had treaded into such troubled waters.

I quote from an article in the March 1989 issue of the Quill that was written by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Clark F. Mollenhoff and William Swislow. The article was a harsh critique of Times v. Sullivan, the landmark 1964 Supreme Court decision that, the authors argued, was a license for media irresponsibility. The Quill is published by the Society of Professional Journalists. If you're not familiar with the case, you may want to sit down for this:

The case of Dr. Carl A. Galloway against CBS, which the doctor lost, represents one of the worst cases of a miscarriage of justice under Sullivan's permissiveness. (And it should be noted here that I [Note: I'm not sure whether "I" refers to Mollenhoff or Swislow] testified as an expert witness in the case on Galloway's behalf.)

In a 60 Minutes program in December 1979, Galloway, a private Los Angeles medical doctor, was portrayed as a dishonest physician who had signed a false medical report on an insurance claim. Such an act would have been a violation of California law and a serious violation of medical ethics.

In fact, Galloway's name had been forged on the medical report that CBS displayed in the 60 Minutes program. Neither CBS correspondent Dan Rather nor the producer had reached the doctor in the several months the program was in production. The signature wasn't verified by a handwriting expert before the show was aired, and no attempt was made to reach Galloway with a registered letter or similar means. Galloway's effort to obtain a correction was rejected by CBS officials, although his demand for a retraction included signed affidavits by workers at the clinic saying that Galloway had not been involved with the false report.

He then sued.

CBS discharged its original law firm in the case after a representative of the firm told the judge in a pretrial session that its handwriting expert had concluded that Galloway's signature had been forged.

Logic would suggest that Galloway had won the crucial point about the falsity of a program that had stated flatly he had signed the false report.

But CBS officials continued to stand by the broadcast.

Galloway testified that he never received any report that CBS or Rather were trying to contact him, although other testimony said Rather and the story's producer had both left messages at Galloway's own office. Galloway also admitted during testimony that he learned the day of the Rather visit that 60 Minutes had been at the clinic.

Galloway said he had left the clinic more than a month before the 60 Minutes report and that his only connection with the clinic had been to conduct routine physical examinations one afternoon a week over a period of several months. He testified that he had never filed a false medical report and was unaware of any false medical reports being filed at the clinic.

Rather defended his failure to contact Galloway and to document his efforts, explaining that he saw several pieces of Galloway's stationery at the clinic and that he considered the failure to return his calls to be an admission of guilt. On the witness stand, Rather said he believed that Galloway had signed the false report at the time the program aired, and that he still believed it in the face of the doctor's denials and the statements of handwriting experts.

Despite the fact that Galloway was a private physician, the trial judge gave the jury the New York Times v. Sullivan instruction. If Dan Rather believed the false medical report carried Dr. Galloway's signature, it was required to return a verdict for CBS, the judge instructed. The jury found for CBS.

CBS lawyers and executives declared another victory for truth. It was in fact another victory for press permissiveness.

Galloway's suit was later the inspiration for a movie called Reckless Disregard.

Rather has done a lot of good work over the years, and the notion that he was driven by liberal bias is ridiculous. Still, I find it amazing that the lapse that finally did him in (Rather's denials to the contrary) was almost identical to one that took place much earlier in his career.

posted at 8:41 AM | 35 comments | link


Wonder if it is possible to get a copy of "Reckless Disregard". (Hilarious if Fox got rights to rebroadcast)...

By Anonymous, at 10:50 AM  

I agree, ridiculous to think Rather liberal. When he announced on air, signifying the conclusion of presidential election results in 1992: "We won," one could hardly blame him. That to me is an objective statement of truth. Similarly, when Clinton left the White House, Rather's interview is another example of journalistic integrity as he addressed the president and first lady. "If we could ever be one hundreth as great as you and Mrs. Clinton, we'd take it and consider ourselves winners." To me, that is the ultimate indication of Rather's lack of journalistic bias.

By Anonymous, at 10:58 AM  

"the notion that he was driven by liberal bias is ridiculous"

Why, because you say so? It does not require one to believe in a vast left-wing conspiracy on behalf of the media to make such a claim. All it requires is to examine his well documented political leanings and the logical effect a substantiated report of this nature would have on Bush's political aspirations in order to conclude that Rather's personal liberal bias was, indeed, a likely contributor to either his willing suspension of disbelief or intentional efforts to mislead.

By submandave, at 11:07 AM  

No Liberal Bias?

What else could account for his decision to run this story with no scrutiny? If he just wanted to run exciting sounding stories relevant to the presidential election, he would have had Swift Boat Vets on every week. Obviously, he desperately WANTED this story to be true in a way that he did not want damaging stories about Kerry to be true. He tried to manipulate a presidential election so that the candidate he favored would win. If this is not liberal bias, then those words have no meaning.

By Anonymous, at 11:17 AM  

Libral bias a "ridiculous" concept? Does that go for conservative bias? Is that ridiculous, a priori? Well, we should give you some points for holding Rather to SOME standard but you lose it with this airy dismissal that even Andy Rooney would not credit (look for that). I thought you were going to expiate on "The Wall Within..." Google that one up if you're not done with Rather. Problem is, it will tend to ENDORSE liberalism as the problem, rather than the cure so no doubt, we will hear nothing of it.

By Anonymous, at 11:20 AM  

Danny Dan Dan Dan,

For the love of god. The notion that Rather is NOT "liberally biased" is prima facie absurd. Just like the notion that the circle jerk you do with Emily Rooney and Company on Friday nights isn't a laughable exercise in liberal propaganda. One simply has to sit and wait for Callie Crossley to interject "race" and roll her eyes at the mention of any Republican to figure that riddle out. You're a smart guy. Admit it.

By Anonymous, at 11:21 AM  

Rather didn't verify his facts in the following case either:

By Howard Kurtz
Wednesday, April 4, 2001; Page A01

Dan Rather, the longest-serving and most outspoken of the major network news anchors, recently served as the star attraction at a Democratic Party fundraiser.

Donors paid as much as $1,000 for a private evening in Austin with the CBS newsman, according to an invitation obtained by The Washington Post. Rather's appearance at the March 21 gathering generated about $20,000 for the Travis County Democratic Party -- and will undoubtedly provide ammunition to critics who have long accused Rather of leaning to the left.

Rather said yesterday that he hadn't realized beforehand that the event was a fundraiser. "I didn't ask the question, and I should have," he said in an interview. "I take full responsibility for it. I'm responsible and I'm accountable."

But the Texas native stopped short of calling his appearance a mistake or saying he would not have attended had he known in advance that he was being used to raise money.

By Anonymous, at 11:32 AM  

If you look up "liberal bias" in the dictionary you'll find Dan Rather's picture. Not only is he biased, he's senile -- the real reason he's leaving the anchor spot. It has been well known by CBS news division heads for the past two years that Rather's Alzheimer's is advancing at a rapid pace. He will be eased out of 60 Minutes in the very near future, before they have to tie a bib around his neck to catch the drool.

By Anonymous, at 11:36 AM  

I have to agree with the previous posters. The gratuitous comment, without support, that "the notion that he was driven by liberal bias is
ridiculous" is, in itself, ridiculous. Who can remember the last "hard-hitting" investigative story by Dan (or, for that matter, by Tom or Peter) which hurt a Democrat in national power? Coincidence? I think not!

By Anonymous, at 11:39 AM  

"Rather has done lots of good work". Horsefrocky. He's a newsreader who got his job because the previous newsreader retired.

The previous newsreader also recently destroyed his credibility with his absurd comment linking Osama Bin Laden and Karl Rove.

By Anonymous, at 11:40 AM  

"Rather has done a lot of good work over the years, and the notion that he was driven by liberal bias is ridiculous."

It's only ridiculous if you are a Liberal. If you are conservative, it is as obvious as the nose on your face, and has been for years.
The problem (your problem) is this. Conservatives can easily see and understand both points of view. They can objectively weigh evidence on each side, consider the probable outcomes, and make an informed decision. This is called critical thinking. Liberals, on the other hand, don't see both points of view and therefore can't go forward with the process. They are always appalled and don't understand why Conservatives don't think the way Liberals do. Liberals reactions always eventually end on an emotional basis, not logic. Liberals can only see their point of view, which is exactly why you and Dan say he has no Liberal bias.

In the world of facts and logic, your statement is pure ignorance. I'm sorry you can't see it.

By David, at 11:40 AM  

And here's what Rather said about President Bush right after 9/11: "He's my commander-in-chief. All he has to do is tell me where to line up and I'll do it." There's liberal bias for you!

As Bryan Curtis argued persuasively in Slate last September, the problem with Rather isn't that he's a liberal, it's that he's nuts. Read it here:

By Dan Kennedy, at 11:41 AM  


Rather claiming that he stood with Bush in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 means nothing as far as an indicator of his political biases as concerned. As I recall, Bush's approval ratings were a stratospheric 70+ % at that point in his presidency. Everyone, even liberals, loved him.

By Anonymous, at 12:07 PM  

Mr. Kennedy,

Try to address the meaning of liberal bias and compare Rather's treatment of Swift Boat Vets (lots of disgruntled guys who actuall served with Kerry) vs. his treatment of a wacky Texas democrat with a copy of microsoft word and a chip on his shoulder?

Why did these two potential presidential election stories receive such different treatment from the (in Dan's words) "greatest news organization in the world"?

The answer is simple. Rahter did not want to hurt Kerry with a questionable story in the Swift Boat allegations, but he did want to hurt the President with a worse than questionable story in the Burkett memo story.

That he said one good thing after 9/11 is good, that he is also nuts is believable, but it is undeniable that his reporting--particularly on the memogate story--was an egregious example of liberal bias.

By Anonymous, at 12:10 PM  

Dan Rather isn't a Democratic stooge; he's Norma Desmond.

I'm a Republican (and a big fan of yours, Dan), and I would have to say that Rather's sin is less liberal bias than vanity.

The New York Times-- now there's liberal bias for you. What can be spun will be spun. But there's a a difference between journalism and show business. For all its flaws, the NYT is practicing journalism-- it's advocacy journalism, but it's journalism (same for the Globe, NPR, Washington Post, etc.). Speaking truth to power and all that. It's an institution staffed by people who believe they are in a noble profession. Arrogant, sure; biased, no doubt; but with a pretense of professionalism.

CBS News is show business-- it's about getting people to point their heads at the screen in a time-starved world. And as the media marketplace gets more crowded, the carnival barkers have to shout louder and louder. It's not about speaking truth to power, it's "Hey, look at me!" Sure, he has his biases (and they sure seem liberal), but the real problem is not being a professional.

The NYT's business model is about subscriptions and ad sales-- if they keep the brand solid (or at least consistent), they will be able to sell a lot of subscriptions. (And as the biggest paper in NYC, they have some monopoly-like power over ad buying). So they HAVE to practice some responsibility. CBS' business model is about advertising alone-- the whole point is to get people to sample it and stick around. One way would be to do what PBS has done with the News Hour-- dour, but respectable. Instead, they have chosen to go for the entertainment angle (Scott and Laci, etc.). It's shrill, and increasingly less effective. But once you go downmarket, it's hard to get back up again.

Dan Rather and Bill O'Reilly are about one degree of difference apart. The pity is that O'Reilly, though a blowhard, knows what business he's in. Dan Rather (and the rest of the broadcast journalism priesthood) have convinced themselves-- and a generation-- that they are practicing the profession of journalism. Most of the country has figured out that they are in show business. And it's not particularly good show business. (Check out the ratings.)

It's not that Americans don't care about news, it's that we don't care about this weak entertainment product you call news.


By Anonymous, at 12:17 PM  

I agree that the Galloway case does not measure up to
the Vietnam documentary reported here for example:

By Anonymous, at 12:19 PM  

"Galloway testified that he never received any report that CBS or Rather were trying to contact him, although other testimony said Rather and the story's producer had both left messages at Galloway's own office. Galloway also admitted during testimony that he learned the day of the Rather visit that 60 Minutes had been at the clinic."

Ah, another place where it'd've been useful for the jurors to know about jury nullification. Too bad the courts collectively lie to us about that right.

By Rick C, at 12:22 PM  

Thank you for the story.

I was stunned at the end with you comment about Rather not being driven by liberal bias. Based upon your article this is a non sequitur. This is a common mistake or ploy by many writers, politicians, Rather, etc. What you proved was the Rather will lie to further his own interests. Ratherís long record will determine the presence of bias, liberal or otherwise. You merely gave us another example of his lost morality.

By Anonymous, at 12:25 PM  

Right on, Omaha! Best take I've seen on this debacle. Per today's Globe, Rather is a graduate of "Sam Houston State Teachers' College" in Texas. Given Dan's career, I propose the name be changed to " H.ouston I.nstitute of T.echnology"...

By Anonymous, at 1:28 PM  

"Dogs will bark and the caravan moves on", (today's Wash. Post). Is anyone willing to admit explicitly that this guy is talking to the rearview mirror in his car? We've given him WAY too much credibility for years. I for one feel like a fool for having listened attentively to this buffoon for years. As with all egomaniacs, it's all about him. Like Clinton, what he did was not so bad but carried with it an "opportunity cost". What great things COULD have been done if important work was not trivialized? "Caravan" indeed. I'm about fed up with the self-aggrandizing sound-bites of this bozo.

By Anonymous, at 1:59 PM  

Just because Dan Rather is a big timefund raiser for the Democrats is no proof of his liberal bias.

George Bush is a big time fund raiser for the Democrats and he is no liberal.

When the Dems want to raise money all they need to do is to breathlessly announce some Bush plan or other and the money rolls in.


BTW where is this reality we keep hearing so much about?

Al Giordano has a better grasp on reality and I consider his grasp tenuous.

By M. Simon, at 1:59 PM  

Dan Rather isn't driven by "liberal bias" - he's driven by being a LIAR and a FRAUD, which trumps any kind of bias he could possibly bring to the table.

Rather defecates on other responsible journalists and his profession. CBS enables it by keeping him in their employ.

If I were a journalist, I'd be hunting down Rather in New York City and then, after ambushing him for an interview, I'd punch him in the face and kick him in ribs until he hit the ground. The guy is scum.

By Anonymous, at 2:17 PM  

As the numerous comments above this point out, there's plenty of Rather-bashing out on the internets these days. An interesting column could be analyzing where it all comes from. So far in the Rather stories I've come across I've seen brief references to testy exchanges with Richard Nixon and George Bush the Elder, but I'm curious where such villification comes from. Even the TANG story, while sloppy work on the part of CBS without a doubt, is based on the still-unexplained military record of the president, which should be a legitimate topic of media inquiry. Just my two cents on something I'd like to see in the Phoenix next week.

By D, at 3:21 PM  

To D --

I dealt with this at some length in September:

I don't expect to be dealing with it again.

By Dan Kennedy, at 3:25 PM  


The most noteworthy aspect of the Dan Rather flap isn't that he included a single piece of false evidence (among scores of reliable witnesses and documents) in his report, it's that America's Right-Wing Corporate Media blocked investigation into Bush's AWOL-draft-dodging scandal for twelve years.

What ought to provoke outrage is that deviant Right-Wing Republicans are far more offended by Rather's spurious document in a TV magazine piece than Bush's phony Niger letters, Colin Powell's plagiarized graduate thesis, the Pentagon's Jessica Lynch hoax or Judith Miller's bogus WMD accounts.

By Anonymous, at 3:34 PM  

We all laugh about the arch propogandist getting nailed. And I'd really like to be a good winner and salute the guy's career but he broke our trust. He's nothing more than a propogandist, regardless of what he has done before. He tried to influence an election with lies, that's how I will remember him.

By Anonymous, at 3:55 PM  

"America's Right-Wing Corporate Media blocked investigation into Bush's AWOL-draft-dodging scandal for twelve years." Whaaaat?

We are told that Mary Mapes spent 5 (five!) years (years!)pursuing the story. How does that square with a blocked investigation?

And if the evidence was so strong and the witnesses so reliable, why bother with forged documents? After 5 years of "investigation", no less.

The forgery was so inept that I felt a twinge of pity for the poor idiot forger, until I remembered that the forgery was gobbled hook, line, sinker, rod, reel, and bass boat by one of the world's "premier" "news" organizations.


By Anonymous, at 5:11 PM  

Hmmm. Gee, Dan....I have read through all 27 (so far) posts here and I don't see any "ongoing tantrums." I see (for the most part) well-reasoned responses. Does my disagreement with you on your characterization of these comments make THIS tantrum as well?

By Anonymous, at 5:18 PM  

You're still on the wrong frequency, Kenneth...

You teach a media law class? Then you know the legal standards for libel, and the public benefit those minimum thresholds produce. You need malice. You need reckless disregard. None of those seem likely, much less demonstrated from your recounting of the 25 year old Galloway case. And, I'm sure it's not *your* bias that is responsible for your omitting that discussion from your article.

Being wrong happens. Being fooled by a source happens. A source being wrong happens.

To attempt to morph one or two errors in a 40+ year career into a bias claim is a demonstration of the pathetic lengths to which some people seem willing to go, particularly when it comes to CBS News and Rather.

I hold no brief for the guy, but the claims that he's demonstrated bias, liberal or otherwise, seem so concocted as to be absurd. He attended a Democratic Party fundraiser? Wow. Guess you left out the part about that fundraiser being, in part, for his daughter. Any father who wouldnt' go to his daughter's fundraiser should have his butt kicked, even if he is a big time anchor man.

I'm sure you're too busy grandstanding to apologize twice in as many days...but you should.

By Anonymous, at 7:35 PM  

(sorry, no Blogger account)

Rather has been unworthy of public trust for a long time.

As CBS correspondent in Dallas in Nov. 1963, he was one of the few to view the Zapruder film of the JFK assassination, and stated on CBS TV that JFK's head went "forward with considerable violence", ensuring that the public would believe the government's single-assassin claims. When questioned about this in 1973, he explained:

"It is gruesome even now, and always will be, to talk about this scene, but the single most dramatic piece of the film is the part where the President's head lurches slightly forward, then explodes backward. I described the forward motion of his head. I failed to mention the violent, backward reaction. This was, as some assassination buffs now argue, a major omission. But certainly not deliberate."

"Buffs" indeed. Anyone who has seen the film can see that it is evidence of a shot from the front, which is why it was kept from public view for years.

Complete story Dan Rather Blinked in Fair Play Magazine Issue #5, July-Aug 1995.

Same ol' Dan, still at it!

By Anonymous, at 7:42 PM  

Dan's right as usual (or I should say, properly and reliably left, thank goodness!) Didn't you see his brilliant comeback to all this nonsense? He countered all your facts by pointing you to Slate. Didn't you all know that Slate is reliably unbaised? Slate would never slant anything against conservatives or Republicans. Or haven't you closely read its presidential endorsement? Its longstanding balanced reportage of this administration. Sure, perhaps they slipped a few times ("Bush is Hitler," "Rove is Satan incarnate," and "Republicans are running dogs of reactionism" but other than these and maybe a few other slips into apparent hysteria, I'd use Slate anyday to back up my arguments, especially if Daily Kos or Eric Alterman aren't available. Give 'em hell, Dan. Both of you.

By Anonymous, at 8:46 PM  

Dan Rather does not suffer from liberal bias. He is simply an honest-to-goodness, highly partisan Democrat who threw away any pretense of objectivity many years ago. He will say or do anything to help his party succeed, like any other hack. George L.

By Anonymous, at 10:46 PM  

"And here's what Rather said about President Bush right after 9/11: "He's my commander-in-chief. All he has to do is tell me where to line up and I'll do it." There's liberal bias for you!" -D.K.

And here's what the French paper Le Monde said right after 9/11: 'We are all Americans now." For about 5 minutes.

Don't confuse a quick pithy statement in the heat of an emotional moment with what Rather actually did for his entire career.

Les Nessman

By Anonymous, at 9:59 AM  

Rather volunteering for duty from his safe desk seat at 87 years old? He stuck his finger in the air, measured the acrid wind coming up west 57th from the burning WTC and backed Bush with a ludicruous 'reporting for duty' statement. Dan's--both of these--are doing a lot of backfilling to cover Rather's ass. Key speaker at fundraisers--suprise! from same county as the document perp!--for Dems in Texas. Doing more kneeling in front of the Clintons than Monica. It's been an embarassment for Gunga Dan for decades. Remember the faked attack in 'Afghanistan?' Actually, a stage event by CBS stringer Kurt Lobeck and Commander Abdul Haq--in order for the former to get a raise and the latter to get some friendly coverage. Dan turned out to be the real winner, a couple decades more at $10 million plus per.

By Anonymous, at 11:02 AM  

Funny that Air National Guard thing is so nebulous that only fake documents can be found to support it. John Kerry never released hundreds of documents about his military service, and there is some evidence in real documents that were released to support the idea that Senator Kerry was not honourably discharged from the U.S, Navy. Where was Rather and the rest of the media circus for that?

For that matter, where are they now, with Senator Kerry sitting on millions of dollars of campaign contributions thinking about making a run in 2008? I am willing to bet someone is looking for a good 1970's vintage typewriter and a detailed Bio of Condi Rice instead...

By Anonymous, at 2:21 AM  

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Dan Kennedy is senior writer and media critic for the Boston Phoenix.

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