In order to head off any confusion – or at least to try to head off any confusion — let me state as clearly as I can right here at the outset that I am not breaking news in this column about Dan Rather, the young George Bush and the Vietnam War. I have written about the vignette that follows before, in my book, 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America – and much of what I write here, I took from that book. Jonah Goldberg (no relation) also mentioned this tidbit about Mr. Rather in a 2004 piece for National Review Online. So why dredge up “old” news? Because “news” is what people don’t know – even if it is “old.” And since the whole mess with Rather’s 60 Minutes Wednesday story will be back in the news when his $70 million dollar lawsuit against his old employer goes to trial (if it’s not settled out of court), I thought some of you might find this column interesting. I’m sure for almost all of you, this “old” news … will be news!
In August 2004, when the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth were taking aim at John Kerry and causing a lot of damage, a prominent journalist told a national magazine that, “In the end, what difference does it make what one candidate or the other did or didn’t do during the Vietnam War? In some ways, that war is as distant as the Napoleonic campaigns.”
That article came out in the August 30, 2004 edition of Broadcasting & Cable magazine. But what the prominent journalist did not bother revealing was that at the very time he was saying John Kerry’s Vietnam record was irrelevant, he himself was working on a story that would air on a major national television news program, just days later … about – take a deep breath! – George W. Bush and what he did or didn’t do during the Vietnam War!
Now take a guess who that prominent journalist was.
If you said Dan Rather, give yourself a gold star.
The story, which aired on the weekday edition of 60 Minutes on September 8, 2004, has come to be known as “Rathergate” — a name it got, as just about everybody knows, because the documents Rather used to back up his story (about George Bush joining the Air National Guard to avoid serving in Vietnam) could not be verified as real … and may in fact be downright forgeries.
So how was it that when John Kerry was taking fire from critics, Dan Rather thought Vietnam was ancient history – but just eight days later, the same Dan Rather was putting George W. Bush in the crosshairs on national television and all of a sudden Vietnam was as relevant as could be?
Could it be that Dan Rather was taking sides, that he was recklessly using his substantial power to further a liberal Democrat’s cause at the expense of a conservative Republican?
Just ask Dan Rather, who, whenever he’s been questioned over the years about liberal bias, has always given the same answer: “I’m in favor of a strong defense, tight money, and clean water. I don’t know what that makes me. But whatever that makes me, that’s what I am.”
With all due respect, what that makes you, Dan, is disingenuous at best and delusional at worst.
For whatever reason, this story never gained traction, though, I readily admit, I find it fascinating. There is something way beyond creepy about Dan Rather (or anyone else, for that matter) telling a national magazine that Vietnam was not relevant to the presidential campaign while he was putting the final touches on a story about Vietnam and the presidential campaign.
What in the world could Rather have been thinking? Didn’t he worry about how it would look when his 60 Minutes Wednesday piece came out? But, as with so many things, Dan apparently wasn’t concerned – and now, he tells us he’s not concerned about his legacy either.
In an August 16, 2009 article about his lawsuit against CBS, the Los Angeles Times reported that “Rather said he doesn’t fret about his legacy. ‘My record is my record,’ he said, ticking off the tent-pole events of the last half-century that he has covered: the assassination of President Kennedy, Watergate, the Gulf War, the Iraq war, Tiananmen Square, the Sept. 11 attacks.
“But will this particular story forever overshadow all of that? The usually loquacious newsman leaned back in his chair, silent for a moment.
‘I have no idea,’ he said quietly. ‘Ever is a long time.’”