Dan Rather still stands by the CBS News report that got him fired, nearly a decade and one feature film later.
The former anchor’s reputation was tarnished after the accuracy of his 2004 story questioning President George W. Bush’s military service was publicly disputed by the leader’s administration. The entire saga was recently dramatized on the big screen in Truth, starring Robert Redford as Rather.
“We reported a true story. We didn’t do it perfectly,” the 84-year-old recently told The Hollywood Reporter. “We made some mistakes of getting to the truth. But that didn’t change the truth of what we reported.”
Rather and his producer Mary Mapes (played by Cate Blanchett in Truth) aired a story that alleged that Bush went AWOL during his time in the Texas Air National Guard. The Bush administration charged that the documents used as the basis for the report were inauthentic, leading to an independent investigation that ultimately concluded that the piece disregarded “fundamental journalistic principles.” The documents were not, however, ever proved to be forgeries.
Rather was subsequently removed from the anchor desk before leaving CBS News for good in 2006 after 44 years. The departure wasn’t without controversy — Rather filed a $70 million lawsuit against the news network, a claim that was eventually dismissed.
Rather still contends that the main aspects of the report were “bedrock facts,” however.
“In the process of putting this together, those partisan political forces and ideological forces who found this a very inconvenient story — they couldn’t attack the hard-rock facts, so they looked, ‘Where is the story weak?’ So they concentrated on the documents and they succeeded,” he said of the investigation into the story. “They overwhelmed CBS — they overwhelmed us who reported it — by making the focus not on the hard-rock truth of the story, but rather the process by which we arrived at that truth.”
Rather left CBS News behind with ultimately no hard feelings (“I loved CBS and still do”) and continued a successful career in journalism. He currently hosts a Web series called “The Big Interview.”
“I’ve made my mistakes and have my wounds, some of them open, some of them self-inflicted,” he said. “A lot of that comes from covering controversial stories.”
And, the reporter insists, through it all, he has no regrets.
“I’m very proud of the career I had. I’m a great believer that you are what your record is, and my record there is what it is,” he said. “For those who say, ‘Well, but it didn’t end very well,’ I say, ‘Well, life sometimes goes that way.’ “