RatherBiased has posted a transcript of Dan Rather’s interview with David Letterman last night. Here’s Rather’s account of the Thornburgh report on the 60 Minutes II story that resulted in Rather’s retirement:
LETTERMAN: …Now, the credibility, the v[e]racity of documents do comes into question and then what happens?
RATHER: Well, a panel was appointed by CBS News to…
LETTERMAN: An independent panel?
RATHER: An independent panel.
LETTERMAN: Is this a big thing for a network news organization to have endured?
RATHER: I think the answer to that is yes, yes. Richard Thornburgh, former attorney general who was in the Nixon administration, says the bushes are good friends of his, both president one and two [B]ush. He headed the panel. They took the better part of four months, spent several million dollars, some people say as much as $5 million, and came out with a report which I’ve read, thought about, absorbed it, take it seriously and move on and carry it with me in my work. Among the things, they concluded a lot of things, many of them not compl[i]mentary about my work. They concluded that whatever happened and whatever you thought about it, it was not motivated by political bias and they said that, although they had four months and millions of dollars, they could not demonstrate the documents were not authentic, that they were forgeries. They said they couldn’t make that conclusion. They also encouraged CBS News to rededicate itself to aggressive investigative reporting when warranted and not let this discourage them from doing so. That’s a summary, a short summary. This panel report is big enough, you know, if you want to read it, it’s I don’t know, big enough to make a door stop.
LETTERMAN: I need a door stop.
(Laughter) so let me go back to two points. They said, one, it was not motivated by political bias?
RATHER: That’s right.
LETTERMAN: So CBS News and yourself and others cleared of that, and that seemed to be a great point of criticism, did it not, that there was political bias here, that…
RATHER: People had their own political motivations and agendas, and some people who didn’t have that, who were asking the question. That’s one reason the panel was appointed. That was one of their conclusions.
LETTERMAN: That charge has been erased by the fact-finding committee?
[RATHER]: That was their conclusion.
LETTERMAN: Did not exist. That evaporated. Secondly, they could not prove the documents were false. They could not prove they were true and accurate, but they also could not prove they were false
RATHER: That’s correct.
LETTERMAN: That’s a push right there.
RATHER: Some people would not regard it, but you’ve summarized it correctly. They had a lot of other findings. Those were among the findings.
We had a different take on the Thornburgh report than Rather. Rocket Man’s take on the Thornburgh report is accessible here and here. My translation of Rather’s take on the report is: “People have got to know whether or not their [anchor] is a crook. Well, I’m not a crook.”
UPDATE: Reader Barry Kelner writes:
The excerpt you quoted from the Letterman interview omits a very important point Rather attempted to make earlier in the interview. I happened to see the exchange and I was astonished by Rather’s continuing denial of the facts and his deliberate effort to leave the mass audience with the impression that he and CBS were on the trail of the truth and that if only they had had “a little more time,” “perhaps” they could have authenticated the documents!
Further, later in the interview, to Letterman’s credit, he pressed Rather on why four persons had to lose their jobs given that CBS was absolved of the two primary charges – political bias (none found) and the use of forged documents (could not be proved or disproved). Rather could only say that Les Moonves had a dfficult decision to make. He avoided answering Letterman’s followup question whether he agreed with Moonves’s decision.
All in all, Rather came off appearing a lot less brash and insolent than he looked 30 years ago in confronting Nixon – thanks in large part to…the blogosphere.