Saturday, February 19, 2005

Another Lie From Rather?

Dan Rather -- in any form -- seems to be bad luck for journalists. In a recent Associated Press article on CBS's "one-hour prime-time tribute to Dan Rather," reporter David Bauder writes:
While reporting in Vietnam in 1965, Rather helped carry a wounded soldier to a helicopter and held a tourniquet to stop his bleeding - but the footage was never aired at his request.
Oh really? That's interesting, because we just read an article in Texas Monthly ("Dan Rather Retorting") and there seems to be some, uh, misunderstanding:
While showing me a video of old clips of Rather in action, [48 Hours Mystery executive producer Susan] Zirinsky tells me, “Dan will do anything—anything. The clips are live reports from a Louisiana civil rights march in 1962, in which dozens of blacks were teargassed; that ugly moment in history when Governor George Wallace blocked the door of the registrar’s office at the University of Alabama, in Tuscaloosa, to prevent two blacks from enrolling; and the jungles of Vietnam in 1965. On this last clip I see a soldier rush to help a fallen comrade and hear him call out, “We need some help here.” Then I see a very young Dan Rather hurrying toward them, yelling, “I’ll give you a hand.” Moments later Rather is carrying one corner of the litter as they evacuate the dying Marine. “Note to New York,” he says on film a little later. “Don’t use that part of me carrying out that wounded soldier.” “Of course CBS used it,” Zirinsky tells me. “It showed our humanity.” [Emphasis added]
No word yet on whether Bauder's false reporting was meant as an homage to Rather. Or if Bauder's misleading source was a CBS press release (we demand an investigation!) or Rather himself.

UPDATE: If the Vietnam anecdote did come from CBS, then someone is lying -- either the press contact at CBS who gave the info to Bauder (and perhaps the rest of the media, via press release), or -- more likely -- the CBS press contact's source. Who could very well be Rather himself. [See further update below: RatherBiased finds out from Bauder who his source was.]

GIANT UPDATE: The Rather Special is being produced by Susan Zirinisky. Zirinsky is quoted at length in the full-version of the AP article we cited above, which makes her the probable source of the anecdote. And if not, she certainly didn't make an effort to correct the AP. (Because she was quoted in it, we're pretty sure she read the article.) Somewhere along the line, her story seems to have changed. WHY?

ANOTHER UPDATE: An earlier post from RatherBiased has some background information on Zirinksy:
Zirinsky, incidentally, worked for Rather for decades as a producer of the "CBS Evening News" and as the executive producer of "48 Hours." She also made some waves during the first Bush adminisration for attending an interview the president gave to CBS (but not to Rather who was persona non grata after his infamous ambush interview) and shouting at her colleagues to confront Bush on Iran-contra.
THE LATEST UPDATE: The big question that needs to be answered is why CBS/Zirinsky would lie about whether they aired Rather's assisting the wounded soldier. Because it makes for a better postscript than, "CBS News ignored Rather and ran the piece anyway"? Airing it against his wishes doesn't seem to be something that would be all that damning to network and certainly not to Rather. If anything, lying about such a small point undercuts the power of what the story is supposed to illustrate about Rather's character. By not getting it right, CBS/Zirinsky/the AP are shining a big, bright light on the kind of credibility problems that got Rather in trouble in the first place.

WE LOVE TO UPDATE: RatherBiased has done some additional reporting, contacting David Bauder of the AP. Bauder confirms that Zirinsky was his source for the Vietnam anecdote.
After conferring with Bauder, we're inclined to think that the discrepancy is arising from some unclear wording on Zirinsky's part since she was also the source for Bauder's statement that CBS had not used the footage.

At this point, it seems likely that Zirinsky meant to say that CBS did not use the video back in the 1970s [sic] but did decide to use it in the upcoming Rather-hosted self-tribute CBS will be broadcasting on the day of his retirement from the "Evening News" anchor desk.

In other words, Bauder stands by his story and thinks that the Texas Monthly writer misquoted Zirinsky. We're not willing to believe (as RatherBiased seems to) Zirinsky "meant" to say that CBS did not air it back in the 60s but would air it on the day of Rather's retirement. Read the passage from Texas Monthly again:
On this last clip I see a soldier rush to help a fallen comrade and hear him call out, “We need some help here.” Then I see a very young Dan Rather hurrying toward them, yelling, “I’ll give you a hand.” Moments later Rather is carrying one corner of the litter as they evacuate the dying Marine. “Note to New York,” he says on film a little later. “Don’t use that part of me carrying out that wounded soldier.” “Of course CBS used it,” Zirinsky tells me. “It showed our humanity.”
When Zirinksky says, "Of course CBS used it," that sounds like past tense to us. And it doesn't sound like unclear wording, either.

According to the article, Zirinsky showed him these clips on the day after the Thornburg Report was released: January 11th. The AP article was written more than a month later. Either Zirinsky found out she was wrong, or she decided to change her story.

It's unlikely we're going to get a straight answer from anyone at CBS, but certainly if they did air the piece, there's someone out in the blogosphere who remembers watching it. If we start hearing from these people, we'll know that Zirinsky was lying, and that the AP report was wrong. If not, Zirinsky ought to come forward and explain herself, and then see that the Texas Monthly article is corrected.

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