Cavuto: Dan ain’t done. Only days after a court dismissed his case against CBS Dan Rather says he ain’t done by a Texas longhorn rancher’s whiskers with CBS. Rather telling me in his first chat since the decision that this decision isn’t the final decision. He is appealing and he sticks by his claim that CBS defrauded him and made him the scapegoat for that 2004 President Bush Texas Air National Guard story. Moments ago, Rather telling me exclusively about his next move.
Cavuto: What are your odds of getting them to even take the case? What do your lawyers say?
Rather: Well, I don’t play any odds, this I know, it’s one and one. We won in the lower court, the trial court. The case was proceeding toward a trial. They won in the appellate court. So, we won one place, they won the next place and the way the system works we go right now to the New York Court of Appeals if they’ll take the case and hopefully they will, and I think they will.
Cavuto: If they don’t it’s game over, right?
Rather: Well, if they don’t, it would be. But if they do, it opens up the possibility of continuing what we started. My mission in this lawsuit is there are other issues involved but the most important principle, the basic reason I’m in it, is what kind of news are we going to have? We have very large corporate interests working with powerful political interests to manipulate the news and the people who report the news. Whatever their political persuasion, I don’t think the American people want that, and what I have been seeking to do in this trial is to bring out the facts. We have, thanks to discovery, it’s already on record in court, some of it we can’t talk about because it’s not yet been filed as a motion, but we have strong documented evidence that what you’ve had, had here, this, you’ve had a large corporation, Viacom CBS, that basically buried an important news story in order to curry favor with, and protect, political interests who regulate them in Washington. And I just ask people….
Cavuto: But they did let the story run. Right? I mean wasn’t the issue with the quality of the documents that would support your story.
Rather: That was an issue. But the basic issue was whether we reported the truth. Was the story true.
Cavuto: And you stand by the story to this day that it was accurate, that former President Bush tried to skirt around Vietnam military service.
Rather: I stand by the story as we reported it as accurate. But here’s the important thing…
Cavuto: By the way, to that end then, the documents that seemed to, by some expert’s reckoning, to have been forged or fake, you say no.
Rather: I do. What I’m saying – and this is very important – to me, and I think to any reasonable person who’s trying to be fair about this – and that is, that no one to this day, although you read that the documents were quote forged, that they were a fraud quote unquote, no one has proven that. Now it’s true that there are people who say, well you didn’t do enough to prove that they were true, and that’s an argument. But I want to drive home – because it’s on the internet and you find it almost everywhere – quote forged quotes untrue. But getting back to the court cases, which I want to, I want to make clear. You know me Neil. I’m not a lot of things that perhaps I should be. But I’m a fighter. And I got into this knowing it was a long, hard, difficult, against-the-odds pull. It’s still a live case. This isn’t over until and unless the New York Court of Appeals says it’s over. Not CBS lawyers. The CBS lawyers are trying to say…
Cavuto: Yeah, the CBS lawyers are saying just that Dan, it is game over. “The lawsuit is now effectively over. As the court unanimously concluded, ‘We find that the complaint must now be dismissed in it’s entirety.'”
Rather: That tells me how afraid they are that we may succeed in the Court of Appeals.
Cavuto: How much have you spent of your own money on this? I’ve heard reports at a minimum two million? Maybe more? What?
Rather: Well, I’m not in it for the money as I’ve said from the beginning. If there’s any money…
Cavuto: But you’ve spent a lot of money.
Rather: Well I’d just like to leave it at that. Yes, it’s been expensive. Which I think speaks to how strongly I feel about the core issue of not letting these large corporations and political powers manipulate the news and the people who gather it.
Cavuto: But you were with them for almost fifty years.
Rather: I was there forty-four years.
Cavuto: Okay. So, is that to say that you only became aware of this manipulation in the last year? In the last couple of years? That you were getting paid so much money that you put up with it? You know what I mean?
Rather: No. That wasn’t the case at fir.. put up with it. First of all, this has been coming for a long time because increasing corporate ownership, ever larger, happened over the years beginning really in the 1980’s at CBS and it went through three or four different ownerships. I am saying that this case, and in some instances I didn’t know about it until I got out of CBS, because I continued, I said this is a good story here. But what happened, what really happened in this case, and what CBS and others want the public believes to happen. So that’s what took me to the court case of saying, listen, we don’t have the power of subpoena, we don’t have the possible pain of perjury, we get in court and that’s what happened, we got into discovery. We learned all kinds of things in discovery and depositions that I didn’t know before. And if we can get the facts in front of people, I’m asking, all I’m asking is, let’s take it to a jury. Let’s get it in open court. And let’s have Mr. Moonves and Mr. Redstone those who…
Cavuto: Leslie Moonves and Sumner Redstone. Now they have been kind of dismissive of this whole legal action of yours and some even in the broadcast community, Dan, have almost looked at you with pity. And they’re saying here’s this seventy-seven-year-old giant in the industry who is, is fighting a losing legal battle and it’s a sad comment on what should be a great career. What do you say?
Rather: Well that’s basically the CBS corporate position. And I understand…
Cavuto: Well a lot of it is your colleagues and friends too.
Rather: Well, they haven’t said it to me. But the people are entitled to their opinion. I know who I am, I know what I am, and I know what I stand for. And I’m a lifetime journalist. And I believe in a journalism that is not afraid to speak truth to power and to speak up – forcefully when necessary – to the powerful and not be intimidated by them. And again, you know, we have a fractionalized country, politicized country. Liberals, conservatives, progressives, reactionaries, what have you. But I think most Americans agree with the idea we want the new straight up.
Cavuto: Wasn’t that the argument here Dan? That you weren’t giving this news straight up. That you had… the charge then, as now, is that you entered with an agenda and that you were rushing, in this case, an agenda in a 2004 heated campaign with John Kerry and President Bush and that this was your effort to stick it to President Bush and that you rushed this without checking everything out.
Rather: Well that’s a long list of accusations and charges. And listen, I’m not perfect. I didn’t have an agenda. I don’t have an agenda.
Cavuto: Did you rush it?
Rather: No. I didn’t.
Cavuto: Looking back do you think you should have slowed down?
Rather: If it was rushed, it was rushed by those who had the responsibility for putting the broadcasts on the air. I didn’t have the power to put the broadcast on the air. If it was rushed…
Cavuto: But did anyone ever say we have to get this on before election day or not?
Rather: No. I never said that. I never heard anybody say that. But if that was the case, it happened at a level well above me in the news division. But I want to get back to whatever one thinks about this you’ve got properly asked me about people integrating well you know whatever you said, the old man, that I’m still active as a reporter and I spend most of my time, especially in investigative pieces, that I’m a long way from being done yet. If I have God’s graces in my health. And this court case is a long, hard, fight and has always been an odds-against fight. The two important points despite what CBS and the lawyers would have you believe, it is not over. The New York Court of Appeals gets to decide. And they decide. Not CBS and its lawyers. And their promotion and publicity team. Number two, that we won in the lower court and we’re going ahead toward trial. We won there, they won in appellate court and now we go, with their permission, to the New York Court of Appeals. That’s point one. Point two. Believe what you want about the story and how it was handled. But we have learned so much in the process of being able to get into court, about what happened, what really happened.
Cavuto: What was the most egregious thing you learned?
Rather: Well the most egregious thing to learn was that this very large corporation, Viacom and CBS, buried this important story in order to protect powerful people in Washington who regulate them. And when people stop and think about that…
Cavuto: But they wouldn’t have run the story at all, right? If that were the case.
Rather: I don’t quite understand.
Cavuto: If you’re looking to protect interests and avoid any heat from Washington you wouldn’t have run this story to viewers at all, right? They did.
Rather: We did run the story. Then after we ran the story, contrary to CBS News tradition, and policy, and history, they didn’t stand behind a story, they didn’t stand behind their reporters. Not just myself, a lot of good, hardworking people at CBS News got hurt in the process, so this, some of them, no they shouldn’t have been. That’s why I say…
Cavuto: Are you bitter though, from experience?
Cavuto: And the way, you know…
Rather: I’m determined.
Cavuto: …you’re the other one. Walter Cronkite passed…
Rather: I’m determined.
Cavuto: …and it was as if there was never an era after Walter Cronkite, before Katie Couric.
Rather: Well you’ll have to be the judge. There certainly are those who believe that CBS News has tried to expunge me from their whole record. But I’m not into that. I know what I’ve done over the years.
Cavuto: Are you sad? If you’re not bitter are you sad?
Rather: No. Not bitter. Not sad. I am determined.
Cavuto: Let’s say Leslie Moonves and Sumner Redstone were to call you up and say, ‘Dan, let’s all go out to lunch, go to dinner, we’ll pick up the check, we’ll go to the Four Seasons – you don’t strike me as a Four Seasons guy, maybe Tad’s Steakhouse – and say we’re going to… let’s break bread, we’ll pick up your legal costs, let’s move on.
Rather: First off, that’s a hypothetical question and I’m not going to answer a hypothetical question.
Cavuto: What’s hypothetical Tad’s Steakhouse or the Four Seasons?
Rather: I’d probably eat Taco Bell. But that’s not likely to happen. It hasn’t happened and indeed…
Cavuto: So no one from either of their offices has called, say just to have a personal chat?
Rather: Absolutely not. By the way, I don’t think they agreed to be on your broadcast. You don’t see Les Moonves here talking about these questions.
Cavuto: You’re absolutely right. You’re absolutely right.
Rather: Nor do you see Sumner Redstone. And we were right at the, right at the point, we had permission from the lower court judge to begin to get some important depositions. Get people under oath, Sumner Redstone, Mr. Thornburgh who led the, what was supposed to be and independent commission, but it wasn’t an independent commission.
Cavuto: Former Attorney General Thornburgh.
Rather: And Dan Bartlett who was the right hand of President Bush. If we are able to continue in the New York Court of Appeals and the appeals court, we can do it. But to answer your question about a telephone call, no, there’s never been any telephone call and…
Cavuto: I’m going to call the Taco Bell people, I know them.
Rather: Say hello to the maitre’d for me.
Cavuto: Alright, so you’ve already heard Dan Rather on the last president, now Dan Rather on the guy who succeeded him.
Cavuto: You think he’s doing too much too fast?
Rather: My personal opinion is that he may be. We’re still early in his presidency, although we’re now, what, roughly nine months in, soon to be a year in. There is the question and I think it’s a fair question and an open question, whether he’s trying to do too much over too broad a spectrum.
Cavuto: Do you think the media’s giving him a pass?
Rather: No, I don’t think the media’s giving him a pass. I think in the very early going, as is the case with most incoming presidents, they gave him the benefit of the doubt.
Cavuto: What do you think of all the media interviews that he does?
Rather: That’s partly his choice, for example going on every talk show one Sunday morning was just blanketing the talk shows.
Cavuto: But Fox, but Fox.
Rather: That’s true.
Cavuto: What did you make of that?
Rather: I don’t know what to make of it. As one who for ten years was a White House correspondent and asking the president to appear on a program it is true that White Houses, not just this one, use access as a coin of their realm.
Cavuto: So if they don’t grant you access they’re actually sticking it to you.
Rather: In a way, but more importantly they’re saying to you we’ll be watching and listening and if you treat us a little better we might come your way the next time. This happens with presidencies but I think the main thing about President Obama is …
Cavuto: But do you think he is overexposed, in other words by going on all these shows, we kidded, not so off base here Dan, that he did every one but the Cartoon Network and ESPN2, But he might very well have. But is that overdoing it?
Rather: I think he runs a risk of overdoing it, just as I believe – again this is strictly personal opinion – that he runs a risk by going to Chicago and Denmark to make the plea for the Olympics.
Cavuto: Do you think that just looks tacky?
Rather: It’s not tacky, there is an argument to be made, I’m not making the argument, but as a reporter look at what’s happened and you try to analyze. He opens himself up to the argument that listen we’ve got two wars, Afghanistan and Iraq, an economy that’s still fragile at best and may be wobbly, he’s got health care right on the decision point, right on the razor’s edge and so not just his opponents who naturally will raise it, I think some of the people…
Cavuto: So Dan Rather, White House reporter who is known to ask a few tough questions now and then of republican and democratic presidents, you would raise that this just doesn’t look good.
Rather: Well I would raise the question of does this say to people I have my sharp focus on the big problems of the country or does this say I’m still in campaign mode? He runs the risk – rightly or wrongly – of being seen as continuing in campaign mode rather than decisive, bold, forceful president mode. What I come back to, he’s only nine months in and he’s a pretty smart guy or he wouldn’t have been elected. I do think most people are still pulling for him, but I think these are questions people ask and I think they’re legitimate questions.
Cavuto: Finally Afghanistan. You’ve been there more than any journalist at least that I know of, back to ’79 I guess in the big war. There’s a demand for more troops and there’ s a battle back and forth I guess at the White House, do we want another Vietnam, do we want an Iraq surge thing to succeed like we had there. If we don’t get more troops there, you know the terrain, you know the people, you know what a mess it is, is it going to make a difference?
Rather: First of all, I’m not an expert on Afghanistan, I have gone there quite a bit. This is one of those very important decisive moments that only a president decides. It is true, military and other leaders recommend, but the president decides. I have said as a personal opinion for some long about Afghanistan we need to have a national debate. Because with Afghanistan it’s either “go big” and go long which is stay for many years or go home. I personally Afghanistan is still ‘doable” – put that in quotation marks.
Cavuto: Doable with the troops we have?
Rather: No. If you’re going to stick it in, I would go with the recommendation of the military people. If you’re going to stay in. If you’re going to pull out…
Cavuto: at least 40,000 more troops…
Rather: The point here is that we have to see about Afghanistan that to accomplish our minimum mission there, our minimum goals, which I think are achievable and desirable, to accomplish those we have to think in terms of another seven to twelve years at a minimum, additional troop strength, additional soft power strength, digging water wells, building schools, building infrastructure, it’s a long, hard pull in there and we have to be prepared to do this so the questions are do we want to do it as a people as a society, do we think we can do it, do we have the money, do we have the resources and the will to do it, but we haven’t had that national debate. That I come back to, it is, in my judgment, go big – go long or go home.
Cavuto: Dan Rather, thank you very much.
Rather: Thank you.