Longtime '60 Minutes' Boss: I Asked Dan Rather If He'd Whack Kerry Like Bush

In a Friday afternoon Newsweek web exclusive, reporter Johnnie Roberts talked to CBS insiders about Dan Rather’s lawsuit against his long-time employer. Don Hewitt, the founder and long-lasting executive producer of 60 Minutes, told the magazine he asked Rather the big bias question: "If this had been John Kerry, wouldn’t you have been more careful about the story?" It’s certainly true that 60 Minutes went easy on Kerry on 2004, with a soft-soap Ed Bradley interview in January, and a syrupy and supportive Lesley Stahl interview in July.

Another anonymous CBS insider says Rather looks "pathetic...the musing of an older man who can’t let go." Roberts reported that while the network wouldn’t comment beyond saying it was old news, others were more forthcoming:

Take, for example, Don Hewitt, the legendary producer of "60 Minutes." "Any news organization, print or broadcast, has the right to protect its reputation by divesting itself of a reporter, irrespective of who he or she is, who it feels reported as fact something that reflected his or her biases more than the facts bear," he said in a NEWSWEEK interview. "And if the reporter’s defense is that he or she had been ‘had,’ isn’t he or she someone a news organization worth its salt can no longer trust not to be ‘had’ again."

Hewitt says he had questioned whether the reporting was biased at a CBS meeting convened to discuss the controversy that began to swell after the story aired. "Let me ask one question," he recalls addressing the gathering. "If this had been John Kerry, wouldn’t you have been more careful about the story?" A senior CBS News insider said Rather is further damaging his reputation by suing. "I think it looks pathetic," this executive told NEWSWEEK on condition of not being identified. "It looks like the musing of an older man who can’t let go. This will have no winners. But the biggest loser will be Dan."

And another former colleague questioned Rather’s motives, declaring that the former anchor is seeking to raise his profile in his post-CBS career at HDNet, a cable channel controlled by billionaire Mark Cuban. "Had he been a big success in his new life" at HDNet, this person speculated, "I don’t believe this would have happened. How do I get myself back into the news? Sue CBS, of course. All of a sudden, people are now talking about Dan Rather again."

Here's how I summarized the two Kerry interviews in 2004, not tough investigative pieces, but clearly favorable publicity exercises:

January 25. In a soft Kerry interview, Ed Bradley touted Kerry’s medals and brushed over Kerry's wild and unsubstantiated 1971 Senate testimony by noting: "It's still emotional after all these years. Vietnam is something that just doesn't leave you." Kerry said: "It's young people dying young for the wrong reasons, because leaders don't do the things that they should do to protect them." Bradley replied: "Do you see a parallel with Iraq?"

July 11. Interviewing the Democratic ticket and their wives, CBS's Lesley Stahl giggled about how well everyone was getting along: "How do you think the honeymoon is going?" Stahl asked Kerry about Edwards: "You're looser. Do you think that his energy is rubbing off on you?"

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