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Dan Rather exhausts legal appeals in lawsuit against CBS

January 12, 2010 | 12:29 pm

RATHER Dan Rather’s protracted legal fight with CBS came to end today 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 allow him to continue pursuing his suit alleging breach of contract and fraud against CBS that a state appellate court 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 the network’s treatment of him 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, saying 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: taking on the business and political interests he said were cowing news organizations.

“Naturally, I am disappointed in today's ruling because we know it is a grave miscarriage of justice,” Rather said in a statement today. “Most of all, I am disappointed that no court or jury studied the evidence and heard the actual facts of the case. The case was dismissed on purely technical grounds. My mission continues to be working to ensure that the media can gather and report news unfettered by the influence of government and major corporate interests."

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.

Rather said he was forced to apologize for the piece and dissuaded from further reporting on the topic because CBS was worried about the political repercussions for its then-parent company, Viacom. He said he was pushed out of the anchor chair, sidelined at the network and ultimately shown the door prematurely, actions that damaged his reputation and made it hard for him to find work after leaving CBS.

The anchor said CBS breached his contract by not providing him with the airtime or resources he was guaranteed in the story's aftermath. But the appellate court, which got the case after both CBS and Rather appealed various rulings, forcefully rejected that argument, citing the "pay or play" provision of the anchor's contract. The appellate 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.

-- Matea Gold

Photo: Dan Rather in November 2006. Credit: Kathy Willens / Associated Press

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