Nice Try, CBS, But Rather's Lawsuit Has Merit

Yesterday CBS filed a motion to dismiss Dan Rather's lawsuit, saying in a statement that they are "mystified and saddened by the baseless and self-serving allegations and distortions of fact raised in his lawsuit." They also called the allegations "bizarre" and the lawsuit "wholly without merit." The motion argues that Rather's suit is actually a "thinly-disguised" defamation suit and is therefore time-barred by a one-year statute of limitations, which Rather missed by three months.

O-kay! Here we go. Nice try, CBS, but for several reasons you're out of luck. Let's get to form first and substance second. According to the complaint (hat tip: NYO), CBS points out that "the last 'allegedly wrongful act' took place on June 16 2006, and that Mr. Rather did not file suit until September 19, 2007, roughly 15 months later." Here's the thing: The statute of limitations clock starts to run from when the person knew OR OUGHT TO HAVE KNOWN that there was a wrong. The burden is on CBS to show that a reasonable person in Rather's position would have come to that conclusion by June 16th. Rather, meanwhile, has claimed that he believed that CBS was working with him in good faith post-Memogate, and could argue that after 44 years of service it took some doing to convince him that his beloved CBS would turn against him. (Never mind that there are probably some subtle slights — like this one — that, had Rather and his attorneys chosen to go the defamation route, could easily have been claimed as the Eureka moment, since Sept. 19, 2006, was barely two weeks after Katie Couric started her CBS run and the chatter was deafening.) Practically speaking, this lawsuit had to have been more than 3 months in contemplation. There's no way Rather and his attorneys weren't well aware of their options. So it's a weak argument on CBS part.

Now to the merits: There may be plenty of contested stuff in Dan Rather's lawsuit (i.e. the "I read what they tell me to read" stuff), but he more than makes a sufficient prima facie case to warrant proceeding with the complaint. Rather alleged "egregious conduct" constituting "breach of contract, fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, prima facie tort, tortious interference with contract and interference with prospective economic advantage, that have cost his significant financial loss and seriously damaged his reputation." That's a lot to throw against the wall and only some of it has to stick. Rather's allegations about airtime and how he was lulled by CBS into thinking that he'd be a prominent contributor to 60 Minutes when in fact he was barely a blip have been substantiated elsewhere, and there's no getting around the fact that his rather public ouster gave his reputation a hit (as did the National Guard story, obviously, but the murky, murky details of shared culpability and chain of command in that case are by no means easy to parse, or to dismiss out of hand). As for the stuff about CBS allegedly kowtowing to the Bush administration, well, who remembers what the atmosphere was like in the fall of 2004, and following Bush's political-capital-swelling election? When people talk about the slumbering White House press corps and the Bush administration "management" (read: bullying) of the media and backroom machinations of Karl Rove — that was the heyday, right there. If Rather can make a case, well then, it ought to be made.

As we've said before, CBS does not want to fight this lawsuit, nor do they want to once again exhume that damned (and damning) National Guard story, and the shoddy editorial practices that went into its creation — from the top down. Discovery would not be a picnic. The lawsuit isn't without merit and CBS knows that, and Rather does, too, even if his expectations about the kind of damages he's entitled to or his perception of his own lack of responsibility are all seriously off the mark. The best solution for both sides, ultimately, is to settle — and to close this ugly chapter once and for all. Who knows how easy that will be — so until then, though, CBS, expect to have a lawsuit on your hands. Yeah, we know, it sucks. Courage.

Related, statute of limitations-wise:
CBS Conveniently Forgets To Mention Dan Rather In Online Snub

Also related, insult-to-injury-wise:
Katie Couric's Dan Rather YouTube Video
[HuffPo Media]

Earlier on ETP:
Dan Rather Has Nothing To Lose [ETP]