Former CBS anchor Dan Rather is vowing an aggressive pursuit of his $70-million lawsuit against the network, saying he’s determined to get his former bosses under oath and prove that they caved to government pressure in forcing his ouster.
“I didn’t take this on to have it dwindle away,” Rather said in a phone interview Thursday. “I’m prepared to fight it all the way. . . . I don’t have to be afraid anymore of standing up and speaking out.”
Rather, who according to the suit drew a $6-million salary at CBS, said any money he collects will go to nonprofit groups, including the Committee to Protect Journalists. “People will say, ‘You’re suing for $70 million?’ You bet I am,” he said. “That’s the only language that these corporations understand.”
Rather, who exited CBS after his work on a widely questioned 2004 newsmagazine report about President Bush’s Vietnam-era military service, sued the network and three top executives this week for breach of contract and fraud. The 75-year-old newsman said that officials at CBS and its parent company Viacom needed “regulatory favors” from administration officials who were upset by allegations in Rather’s weekday “60 Minutes” report that Bush as a young man had received preferential treatment. That report relied on documents that an expert panel, convened by CBS, later said could not be verified.
The network earlier this week called Rather’s lawsuit “without merit.” CBS did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
Rather decided to file the suit, he said, over the last year after a small “team of people” uncovered new facts about his final months at CBS News.
The veteran newsman said he hired this group at his own expense but declined to say who participated or whether the team included journalists or private investigators.
“I learned a lot of things I didn’t know before,” Rather said.
According to Rather, Viacom boss Sumner Redstone, worried about the company’s standing in Washington, grew “enraged” over the Bush-story controversy at a board meeting, telling those present that “Dan Rather and anyone associated with Dan Rather has to go.”
Rather also said CBS failed to honor the terms of its contract with him. He claims that then-CBS News boss Andrew Heyward, who was named in the suit, held “secret meetings” internally to discuss the anchor’s fate. And Rather insisted that, despite executives’ claims to the contrary, the network had decided to cancel the weekday edition of “60 Minutes” after its reporting on the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal provoked displeasure from top Bush officials.
In the wake of the controversy over Bush’s military documents, Rather said, Heyward persuaded him to read an apology on the air by telling him it would help protect not just him but also his longtime colleagues. “I didn’t think the apology was a good idea,” Rather said.
“Viacom, CBS and some of the senior management sacrificed supporting independent journalism for their corporate financial interests,” he added.