Dan Rather’s protracted legal fight with CBS ended Tuesday when New York state’s highest court declined to hear the anchor’s motion to reinstate his $70-million lawsuit against his longtime employer.
Rather was hoping the court would breathe new life into his suit alleging breach of contract and fraud against CBS that a state appellate court had dismissed in September. But the Court of Appeals denied Rather’s motion without comment.
The decision came as muted denouement to what had been an expensive and at times ugly battle between the veteran newsman and the network that was his home for 44 years.
Rather’s decision in 2007 to sue CBS over his treatment in the aftermath of its controversial report about George W. Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard estranged him from his colleagues. Some publicly denounced him after he filed the suit, saying that the anchor was seeking to deflect blame for letting a story on the air that had not been fully vetted. But to Rather, the case was part of a larger mission -- namely, to take on the business and political interests he contends are cowing news organizations.
“I believed then and I believe now that it’s important the public understand how much influence in collusion big government and big business can have in affecting how the news is handled,” Rather said in an interview Tuesday. “And that should not be.”
“Nobody likes to lose,” he added. “But I thought carefully before I went into this. I decided, win or lose, some things are worth fighting for. And this is worth fighting for. And I have no intention of giving up the fight.”
A CBS spokesman declined to respond, saying simply, “We will let Dan have the last word on his lawsuit.”
The suit stems from a controversial “60 Minutes II” piece Rather reported in 2004 alleging that Bush received preferential treatment during his Vietnam-era service in the Texas Air National Guard. In the story, Rather cited documents CBS had obtained, purportedly written by Bush’s commanding officer at the time. But after the validity of the documents came under intense scrutiny, the network conceded that they could not be authenticated.
In the aftermath, Rather said he was pushed out of the anchor chair, sidelined in the news division and ultimately shown the door prematurely, actions that damaged his reputation and made it hard for him to find work after leaving CBS.
But the appellate court, which got the case after both CBS and Rather appealed various rulings, rejected Rather’s argument that his contract was breached, noting the “pay-or-play” clause in his deal. The panel also found that Rather failed to support his allegation that CBS hurt his future business opportunities and had no grounds on which to allege fraud.