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'Rather Dumb' Author Talks About the Real Dan Rather

Monday, 07 March 2005 12:00 AM

In an exclusive interview Walker told NewsMax.com why he took the time to probe Dan Rather and the story behind Rathergate in his best-selling new book, "Rather Dumb: A Top Tabloid Reporter Tells CBS How to Do News."

I also knew I had to write the book and get it to the presses before the CBS-appointed panel's report that they took forever getting out, because I could see exactly what was going to happen.

Here's Rather saying his documents are wrong, his source is a liar, but the story is true. I realized that the reason CBS was stonewalling was that Rather was making them do it.

The way news organizations work is you put a story out there and suddenly someone comes back at you and says you guys are wrong. Well, the first thing they do is circle the wagons and say that they stand by the story. In the meantime they send a reporter out there to see what the real story is. So you do that for a couple of days and if it turns out you goofed, you admit it.

But when this thing stretched out for 10 days, I knew what was going on. And when I read the panel's report, all 211 pages of it, I discovered that a couple of days into the thing people like Josh Howard, who was the producer of "60 Minutes Wednesday," told CBS to come clean and let it all hang out. But it didn't. Other CBS executives said the same.

In situations like this the network brass take the little guys and toss them out and offer them up as scapegoats. Dan Rather, in my considered opinion and that of others I have talked to, is the reason that they failed to come clean in a few days.

Everything you read about Dan – and there have been many [things] about that rat's nest called CBS, and I read them all, as well as all of Dan Rather's books – the picture that emerges is that of a crazy, weirdo, wound-tight, pugnacious, nasty, defensive, back-stabbing, self-promoting monster.

It really angered me that in the early days he started talking about the ‘pajama-clad bloggers.' Then he starts talking about political partisan right-wing ideologues, and I'm sitting there thinking, "That's you, idiot, that's the press."

I'm also getting angry because this is a guy that I know would sneer at me, would sneer at the National Enquirer. He one time actually accused Tom Brokaw of doing news that was "too light," explaining why Brokaw was beating him in the ratings.

Brokaw got really upset and he said something like according to Dan, the only thing that's news is what's happened in mahogany-paneled conference rooms, government offices, which sums up what Dan Rather has done all his life. One of the easiest things you could do is to be a political reporter and particularly one from television, where everything is done for you. You've got a staff of people handing it to you on a silver platter.

And Dan Rather can't write. He's written seven books and every one of them, including a childhood reminiscence, was written with a co-writer.

This is a guy who couldn't carry the bags of most of the reporters that I know and you know.

Well, Andrew Heyward was Dan's producer. He was the guy who had his finger on the switch when Dan said he was walking off and was going to call Howard Stringer, then CBS president, and complain about the network delaying his news broadcast for a 'mere' athletic event. And I asked myself why didn't they throw up a commercial or a public service announcement or one of the things they have lying around in case something like that happens. But nothing happened. In one of the books written by a CBS insider they made the point that if Heyward had said this is wrong and thrown on a commercial or another fill-in, Dan's big gesture would not have had the dramatic effect he wanted – it wouldn't have made all the headlines.

People on the inside have written that if Heyward had filled in that empty six minutes, he wouldn't ever have been president of CBS News, because Dan would have fired his behind because Dan wanted CBS to go dark to make his petulant point.

Try doing some fake news about Tom Cruise, for example. You will be hip deep in Hollywood lawyers before you know it. You can attack President Bush because you know that Bush isn't going to sue you. Politicians do not sue. But try saying something about Tom Cruise or some other Hollywood star and you'll have armies of lawyers coming at you. These people have deep pockets and they sue, and you'd better know what you are talking about.

If Dan had reported phony news about Tom Cruise, he would be up to his $10 million behind in Hollywood lawyers before the red light on his camera blinked off. Trust me, you'd rather get eaten by wild hogs than face a PCP-popping pack of Tinseltown hyena-lawyers.

I run that risk every day because deep-pockets stars are often too damn dumb to realize that lawyers push them to threaten lawsuits that could never fly in a courtroom, just to milk their sucker-behinds for fat fees. Nevertheless, for me the threat is always there. So I work damn hard to get it right.

Yet this $10-million-a-year SOB looks down his nose at the likes of me – or, for that matter, even Tom Brokaw.

Bernstein answered that he thought that a lot of what we do is garbage, but then went on to say that the reason the tabloids are so successful is because they work harder than mainstream journalists. They never stop. He said that he's been in the field and has seen them operate. They are tireless.

The average newspaper reporter comes in, has a cup of coffee, makes a few phone calls, maybe writes a story, maybe he doesn't, he talks to his editor and he goes home or to the bar. He added these tabloid guys never stop working – they are tireless. That's why they are so hugely successful.

Today you could just check with Google – it would take you five minutes to discover that this guy is kind of a loon with a track record of hating Bush, that he was a malcontent against the National Guard – so that's two strikes right there.

He had self-admitted mental problems and couldn't tell the truth about where he got the documents. In the book I reported that Dan said he knew the name of the man he said gave Burkett the documents and he thought that was enough. And he didn't bother calling the guy because, after all, he was in Europe.

In my column there are 17 or 18 items every week, and every week I have to submit a source list and explain not only who told me about an item, but also how they would know this.

I talked to the Enquirer's lawyers and I asked them how they would have reacted if I handled the situation as Rather did. If I said "I've got a document," they'd ask where I got it. I'd say it was stolen. They'd ask me what was the chain of possession. If I answered that I didn't know, but before we get to that, you should know that it's not a document, it's a copy of a document, they'd hang up on me. They know that you cannot authenticate a copy.

But if they asked what was the chain of possession and I told them that a guy in Europe gave it to my source, they would ask what did the guy in Europe tell you. "Well, I don't know, I didn't talk to him."

Our lawyers were astounded. That's worse than mere sloppy journalism.

As I wrote on my Web site, ratherdumb.com:

"You lied, Dan. You screwed your viewers – and your colleagues. Not because you got the story wrong. All good journalists get it wrong sometimes. You screwed everybody with your scorched-earth stubbornness, refusing to listen to colleagues who urged you to admit your mistake as you stonewalled for 10 days – and insulting the press and CBS viewers/bloggers who questioned your pathetic ‘official documents.' You had an eye-opening story, Dan. Too bad it turned out to be a phony – and based on a pack of lies that wouldn't get past your average high school journalist. Dumb.'"

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In an exclusive interview Walker told NewsMax.com why he took the time to probe Dan Rather and the story behind Rathergate in his best-selling new book, "Rather Dumb: A Top Tabloid Reporter Tells CBS How to Do News." I also knew I had to write the book and...
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Monday, 07 March 2005 12:00 AM
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