8/2/2019 Dan Rather
Thom Hartmann on the News for April 16, 2012 Charter for Compassion
Dan Rather Was Right About George W. Bush By Joe Hagan,
Texas MonthlyPosted on April 16, 2012
Former President George W. Bush speaks at the Summit to Save Lives in Washington, DC,
09/13/11. (photo: Getty Images)
Source: Reader Supported News
16 April 12
Eight years ago, Dan Rather broadcast an explosive report on the AirNational Guard service of President George W. Bush. It was supposed to be
the legendary newsmans finest hour. Instead, it blew up in his face,
tarnishing his career forever and casting a dark cloud of doubt and
suspicion over his reporting and that of every other journalist on the case.
This month, as Rather returns with a new memoir, Joe Hagan finally gets to
the bottom of the greatest untold story in modern Texas politics, with
exclusive, never-before-seen details that shed fresh light on who was right,
who was wrong, and what really happened.
ere it is, on a coat hook in midtown Manhattan: the Army-issue green shirt, with CBS
NEWS written in white letters on the ID tag, that Dan Rather wore in 1966 while
hunkered down in rice paddies along the Cambodian border. It would be one of the
legendary network anchors most famous assignments: dispatching dramatic reports on
the Vietnam conflict for millions of Americans sitting down to the evening news. In 16mm
films you can see him, young and square-jawed, hair thick and black, barking into a
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8/2/2019 Dan Rather
microphone and recoiling from machine guns that rat-a-tat-tat behind him.
Its a little tighter than it used to be, says Rather, considering the shirt now.
Hes sitting under a still-life painting of a fishing rod and tackle in his modest, somewhat
shabby little office on Forty-second Street, a place hidden at the far end of a long hallway
where youd least expect to find the former anchor. His lower lip bulges, as if swollen from
a punch to the mouth, with a pinch of tobacco, a vestigial habit from his teenage years
working on Tex as oil rigs. Craggy, gray- haired, and in need of hearing aids, Rather is stillanimated by his glory days, the details of which have long since solidified into a personal
mythology. It s the epic story of the hustling correspondent from Wharton who reported
the death of President John F. Kennedy as a young CBS correspondent, who brought
Vietnam into American living rooms, who stood toe-to-toe with Richard Nixon during
Watergate, and who nudged aside Walter Cronkite to become one of the most trusted and
iconic voices of his day.
By all rights, Rather, who turns 81 this year, should be enjoying a few victory laps at the
close of a remarkable career. And he would be, except for one report that he will never
forget, because no one will ever let him: the botched 60 Minutes segment in 2004 on
George W. Bushs Texas Air National Guard service. The report, which lasted fifteenminutes, forever damaged Rathers reputation and ended his network TV career after
forty years. Its claims were potentially explosive that Bush had received preferential
treatment to enter the National Guard in 1968 in order to avoid the Vietnam draft and that
he had then shirked his duty without repercussion. As ev idence, Rather produced six
documents that described the alleged political pressure Bushs commanding officer was
under to sugarcoat possibly embarrassing moments in Bushs record, specifically his
failure to show up for a flight physical and his loss of flight status. In a presidential
campaign that had become a referendum on who had the credibility to take control of the
quagmire in Iraq, Rathers report could have seriously damaged Bushs reelection effort.
But he went at the king and he missed.
Almost as soon as the broadcast aired, a swarm of right-wing blogs assailed Rathers
documents, claiming their typeface and spacing was inconsistent with any known
typewriter of the early seventies. Within days CBS was reeling as Bush allies accused
Rather and his longtime producer, Mary Mapes, of using forgeries to tip a presidential
election in favor of the Democrats. Twelve days after the story aired, CBS backed down,
forced Rather to apologize, and established a special panel to invest igate what went wrong.
Forty-three days later, Bush was reelected, beating Senator John Kerry by a two-point
margin in the pivotal swing state of Ohio. By the t ime Mapes and three other producers
were ousted by CBS, the Bush National Guard story was dead and buried, with Rathers
reputation as the tombstone.
Eight years later, Bush is back in Texas, keeping a low profile and building his presidential
library. Rather is still a newsman, hosting a program called Dan Rather Reports on HDNet,
a niche cable and satellite channel. But he is also a man who cannot stop reliving his worst
moment. T his month he will publish Rather Outspoken: My Life in News, his fourth
memoir but the first since his downfall. Not surprisingly, he uses the book to defend the
details of his report, sharpening his ax for Bush, as well as former colleagues at CBS and its
parent company at the time, Viacom, whom Rather believes caved under political pressure
from the Bush White House.
The story we reported has never been denied by George W. Bush, by anyone in his closecircles, including his family, says Rather. They have never denied the bulwark of the
story, the spine of the story, the thrust of the story. (In fact, Bush officials have indeed
denied it, repeatedly. I n a conversation I had with former White House director of
communications Dan Bartlett in 2007, he told me, We believe the story is inaccurate, both
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