Government Influencing Newsrooms
By SAMANTHA GROS
09/21/07 - -- NEW YORK (AP)
— Dan Rather said Thursday that the undue influence of the
government and large corporations over newsrooms spurred his
decision to file a $70 million lawsuit against CBS and its
former parent company.
"Somebody, sometime has got to take a stand and say democracy
cannot survive, much less thrive with the level of big corporate
and big government interference and intimidation in news," he
said on CNN's "Larry King Live."
In the suit, filed a day earlier in state Supreme Court in
Manhattan, Rather claimed CBS and Viacom Inc. used him as a
"scapegoat" and intentionally botched the aftermath of a
discredited story about President Bush's military service to
curry favor with the White House. He was removed from his "CBS
Evening News" post in March 2005.
"They sacrificed support for independent journalism for
corporate financial gain, and in so doing, I think they
undermined a lot at CBS News," he told King.
Rather didn't mention other instances in which he believed news
organizations bowed to corporate and government pressure.
CBS spokesman Dana McClintock did not return an after-hours call
seeking comment Thursday. He has called Rather's complaints "old
news" and said the lawsuit was "without merit." A spokesman for
Viacom declined to comment.
Journalism ethics scholar Bob Steele said Rather would have a
difficult time proving that the White House or other political
operatives exerted undue influence on CBS.
"It would be naive for us to believe that there was no influence
from powerful institutions and individuals on journalism," said
Steele, a scholar at the Poynter Institute, a journalism
foundation in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Still, he said: "For the most part, the journalists who run news
organizations and who report the news fight hard to protect the
independence of the journalism, and most of the time succeed."
Rather narrated the September 2004 report that said Bush
disobeyed orders and shirked some of his duties during his
National Guard service. It also said a commander felt pressured
to sugarcoat Bush's record.
The story relied on four documents, supposedly written by Bush's
commander in the Texas Air National Guard, the late Lt. Col.
Jerry Killian. Critics questioned the documents' authenticity
and suggested they were forged.
A panel selected by the network to investigate the story
determined that it was neither fair nor accurate. CBS fired the
story's producer and asked for the resignations of three
executives because it could not authenticate documents used in
the story. Rather was forced out of the anchor chair he had
occupied for 24 years.
On CNN, Rather dismissed the panel's review, claiming it was not
"This was in many ways a fraud. It was a setup," he told King.
Louis D. Boccardi, the retired chief executive of The Associated
Press who made up the two-man investigative panel with Richard
Thornburgh, the former U.S. attorney general, defended the
panel's work Thursday night.
"Our report was independent, and it speaks for itself," he said,
echoing comments made by Thornburgh on Wednesday. Both declined
to comment further.
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