Dan Rather scored a major triumph against his former employer yesterday as a state supreme court judge reinstated his fraud claim against CBS and ordered the network to turn over thousands of documents it was hoping to keep private.
I'll be the first to admit that when Rather first filed his $70 million case against CBS, it looked, to me at least, like the action of a deluded man desperate to salvage his reputation from the wreckage of his 60 Minutes II report on George Bush's National Guard service record. In painting a shadowy conspiracy on the part of his corporate masters, the once-respected anchor seemed to be dodging all responsibility for his own role in the flawed report, even though he had already publicly apologized for it.
But that was before details emerged that made it look an awful lot like such a conspiracy did, in fact, exist: specifically, that CBS executives had considered such far-out conservatives as Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter as candidates for the panel responsible for conducting the investigation into the "Rathergate" report.
No wonder Justice Ira Gammerman now thinks it reasonable to grant access to other documents -- including communications between the panel and CBS's lawyers and sealed settlements between CBS and employees it dismissed over the affair -- that could shed light on the network's true motivations.
Rather was little short of ecstatic yesterday after the hearing, declaring it "a bad day at Black Rock" (the nickname of CBS's corporate headquarters).
CBS, meanwhile, had this to say in an emailed statement:
Today's rulings by Judge Gammerman were on technical and procedural issues, not on the merits of Mr. Rather's allegations. Most of Mr. Rather's claims already have been rejected by the court and that has not changed. We are similarly confident that Mr. Rather's re-pleaded fraud claim will be dismissed once the court reaches the actual merits. We also await the appellate division's decisions on pending motions which, we believe will further curtail his claims.
With respect to the ruling on privilege issues relating to the Independent Panel, the Panel was in fact independent and CBS took no position on the privilege issues raised by Kirkpatrick and Lockhart.