Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Gotta love that Bloomie!

On page 14 of this week's New York magazine - a reporter asks Mayor Bloomberg about Matt Damon's endorsement.

Reporter: "How do you [and Matt Damon] know each other?"

Bloomie: "All young sex symbols know each other."


Rather pathetic? I'm not so sure...

If you peruse the reader comments after any given web story on the topic, it seems as though there are two kinds of people when it comes to the Dan Rather vs. CBS saga. One group of people used to care but is experiencing a sharp decline in interest as each day passes. The other group never cared. Me? I find it fascinating. A life-long journalist is working on the biggest investigative piece of his career. The ironic twist is that the genesis of the piece, for all intents and purposes, ended his journalistic career...for now.

Rather reported a story about former President George W. Bush's questionable stint in the National Guard on “60 Minutes II” in 2004. Later, CBS, apparently succumbing to pressure by the administration, assembled a panel to investigate how the piece saw the light of day seeing as how some of the documents in Rather's story were not authentic. The story resulted in an apology to the White House from CBS and Rather being ousted from his position in the anchor seat at the CBS Evening News. (...and the grand entrance of Katie Couric...barring the Palin interview, that choice has not exactly been wildly successful for CBS.)

But instead of quietly going out to pasture, Rather fought back. He launched a lawsuit against CBS in 2007 claiming that he was the fall guy for a story the network said was fraught with flaws. He's also claiming that the network did not live up to the terms of his post-anchor contract which promised continued airtime and appropriate support staff. In the spring of last year, a judge threw out several parts of the claim, specifically the sections that claimed fraud against top execs at the network. What's left is basically a glorified breach of contract claim. But depending on how the imminent trial goes, this could shake out to be much more than a run of the mill contract dispute.

Now, without being limited by the usual shackles of a journalist, Rather has been free to dig deep during the discovery phase of the legal process. It seems that Rather has uncovered some information that could prove quite embarrassing to CBS at trial, including how they formed their independent panel that investigated Rather's story. Emails and memos imply that CBS was intent on assembling a panel that would pacify the right. After all, it was 2004 and there were another four years of Bush and, more importantly, deregulation stretching before them. If (which is starting to look more and more like 'when') the case goes to trial, CBS brass could find themselves on the stand testifying about the assembly of the investigative panel and how said panel compiled its report.

Some have called Rather's actions petty and pathetic, but this lawsuit could provide a rare and fascinating window into the goings-on at a major news organization. How things make it...and don't make it...to the airwaves. The crux of the claim will depend whether Rather can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the records used in his story are authentic. Although the network's lawyers are seeming pretty confident and are fond of talking smack in the press, no one has yet publicly proven that the records are fabricated or inauthentic. And, several people independent of the network maelstrom have corroborated everything that was in Rather's piece. If I were the counsel for the CBS, I'd be pretty skeered. A wealthy reporter who is not interested in a settlement is a formidable opponent.

Having said all this, I have to say that I'm torn on this one. On the one hand, I respect that Rather is not backing down. I have to admit, initially I wasn't following the story closely and I thought he was just being petty and pathetic. It turns out, he's trying to protect his journalistic integrity! However, there are problems here too. Rather did apologize for the story, basically stripping it of all credibility, then later said the apology was coerced...now that's just lame. The other problem I have is all the reports about how Rather sulked about not being invited to Walter Cronkite's funeral. I don't know what the real story is there, but if Rather had anything to do with fanning the flames of that tidbit of information, it was a big mistake. If he wants to have anything resembling a decent legacy, he needs to pray this thing goes to trial, fight like hell to prove his side of the story, and never sulk.