01/14/05 — Dan Rather: He dodged another bullet — almost

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Dan Rather: He dodged another bullet — almost

Dan Rather claims to have been “shot at (and missed)” in the process of reporting the news on several continents.

He dodged another bullet in the findings of an “independent investigative panel” looking into the “60 Minutes” fiasco concerning President George W. Bush’s National Guard service.

Four people were fired by CBS as a result of the report.

Among them was Mary Mapes of Dallas, who was the key person producing the story. The other three also held high positions, among them the head of the political desk.

Dan Rather was the on-the-air person who read the story and showed pictures of documents — which turned out to be either fake or highly suspect.

The panel found what was described as a “perfect storm” of factors leading to the production and airing of the story just weeks before the presidential election. The “perfect storm” was not the result of natural coincidents.

In the findings of the panel, the story, which was almost immediately discredited, was the result of “myopic zeal” and “shoddy journalism.”

Remarkably, the panel found Dan Rather — the CBS managing editor and presenter of the story — as “overworked and barely involved” in preparation of the story.

Rather’s “regrettably limited participation” deprived production of the story “valuable perspective,” according to the panel.

Yet in the days following the barrage of evidence discrediting the story, Dan Rather doggedly stuck to its “validity.”

Another interesting aspect is the panel’s “finding” of “no evidence of political motivation.” This is despite the fact that Ms. Mapes — who had been trying to get the “story” for five years — tipped off the Kerry campaign of its coming and broke it just weeks before the election.

Perhaps the fact that Dan Rather already has announced his plans to retire this year had a modicum of influence on his escaping criticism in the panel report and punishment by CBS.

But Rather will be leaving with awesome scars of collateral damage.

He not only will be going out in personal disgrace, he has disgraced what was regarded by the public as the noble and important institution of journalism. In some Oriental cultures, the appropriate response is to fall on one’s sword.

Published in Editorials on January 14, 2005 11:16 AM