- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 9, 2005

Dan Rather’s departure from the CBS Evening News has some fretting that last September’s “60 Minutes” forgery fiasco is being blown out of proportion, that this week’s media coverage should paint Mr. Rather as a fearless journalistic truth-teller, not as a sloppy partisan operative.

Former New York Times reporter Alex Jones, now a Harvard media expert, told USA Today it would be a “gross disservice” to emphasize Mr. Rather’s bogus National Guard story. “It doesn’t diminish his decades-long career of distinguished broadcast journalism,” Mr. Jones insisted.

Hogwash. If there’s one TV news star whose career was epitomized by twisting the news to assist liberals and knock conservatives, it’s Dan Rather. Last September’s politically motivated fraud wasn’t a departure for Mr. Rather; it was just an extreme example of the obnoxious bias that has tarnished his whole career.

Pick any policy issue that divides liberals and conservatives, and you would find Mr. Rather using his newscast to frame the debate in ways that favored the liberal side. When Republicans gained control of Congress in 1995, Mr. Rather painted them as mean-spirited destroyers. “There was no doubt Republicans in the House had enough votes tonight to pass another key item in their agenda to rip up or rewrite government programs going back to the Franklin Roosevelt era,” Mr. Rather warned on his Feb. 28, 1995, newscast.

A few days later, Mr. Rather cut loose again with an intro that sounded like a Democratic campaign ad: “The new Republican majority in Congress took a big step today on its legislative agenda to demolish or damage government aid programs, many of them designed to help children and the poor.”

Six years later, Mr. Rather clung to the same mantra as he scolded President Bush’s “big tax cut plan, partly bankrolled, critics say, through cuts in many federal aid programs for children and education.” Of course the idea of “cuts” was pure fantasy. In 2004, the Cato Institute calculated the Education Department’s budget actually soared 75 percent in Mr. Bush’s first three years, from $36 billion in fiscal 2001 to $63 billion in fiscal 2004.

Mr. Rather had a different standard for liberals. When CBS tried to stop a ratings slide by pairing him with Connie Chung, Mr. Rather sought inspiration from a Democratic First Family. “If we could be one-hundredth as great as you and Hillary Rodham Clinton have been in the White House, we’d take it right now and walk away winners,” Mr. Rather fawningly told Bill Clinton in May 1993. Years later, when Hillary decided she wanted a New York Senate seat, Mr. Rather put on his Democratic press secretary’s hat for a “60 Minutes II” profile (produced by Mary Mapes) that lionized the liberal first lady: “Once a political lightning rod, today she is political lightning.”

Mr. Rather evidently didn’t mind looking foolish as he touted the Clintons’ greatness, telling FNC’s Bill O’Reilly in May 2001 that he considered the impeached former president “an honest man.” When a skeptical Mr. O’Reilly pressed him, Mr. Rather ridiculously elaborated, “I think you can be an honest person and lie about any number of things.”

Mr. Rather wasn’t just a liberal cartoon; he had a patriotic side that he exhibited during times of national crisis. During the major combat phase of the Iraq war, Mr. Rather refused to indulge the misguided pessimism that tainted ABC’s coverage, for example. But every election year, Mr. Rather’s liberal slant reared itself. During the 2004 campaign, John Kerry’s operatives hoped to sully Mr. Bush’s economic record, and Mr. Rather obliged. Reporting the brutal murder of four civilians contractors last March, he smarmily set up an Evening News story: “What drives American civilians to risk death in Iraq? In this economy, it may be, for some, the only job they can find.”

When Mr. Kerry was criticized, Mr. Rather switched from offense to defense. In a July interview, he presented the Democratic nominee as a hero victimized by nasty Republicans: “Have you ever had any anger about President Bush — who spent his time during the Vietnam War in the National Guard — running, in effect, a campaign that does its best to diminish your service in Vietnam? You have to be at least irritated by that, or have you been?”

Liberals will probably miss having such a friend at the helm of one of the big three network newscasts, but fans of fair and balanced news should not miss Dan Rather one bit.

Rich Noyes is research director for the Media Research Center (www.mediaresearch.org) in Alexandria, Va.

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