NEW YORK -- As if CBS
hadn't been rattled enough by legal flaps from shock jocks Howard Stern
and Don Imus
, a languishing newscast with Katie Couric
as well as the controversial just-launched reality show Kid Nation, the network has been slapped with a $70 million lawsuit from former anchor Dan Rather
Rather, whose decades-long career at CBS came to an inglorious halt over his role in a report criticizing President Bush's Vietnam-era National Guard service, on Wednesday sued CBS, Viacom, its chairman Sumner Redstone
, CBS CEO Leslie Moonves
and former CBS News president Andrew Heyward
The suit, filed in New York State Supreme Court, argues that CBS violated Rather's contract by giving him insufficient airtime on 60 Minutes
after summarily dismissing him as anchor of CBS Evening News
in March 2005.
The suit claims that Rather was made a scapegoat by CBS and Viacom for business interests after the September 2004 airing of the controversial 60 Minutes II
report on President Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard. The 32-page writ said the anchor was shunned and continually kept from defending himself from attacks inside and outside CBS. Rather claims that the independent panel investigating Memogate had close ties to President Bush's father and that he was compelled to apologize for the report, even though he wasn't directly involved in putting it together.
In the filing, Rather also describes how systematically, and painfully, he was sidelined by the CBS hierarchy while at 60 Minutes
. He said he was "provided with very little staff support, very few of his suggested stories were approved, editing services were denied to him and the broadcasts of the few stories he was permitted to do was delayed and then played on carefully selected evenings when low viewership was anticipated."
Rather is seeking upward of $20 million in compensatory damages and $50 million in punitive damages. He said in a statement that he would donate most of whatever he might be awarded "to causes that will further journalistic independence."
CBS responded quickly to the lawsuit with a terse statement: "These complaints are old news, and this lawsuit is without merit."
Word of the lawsuit had spread like wildfire over the Internet and the wires by midday Wednesday; entertainment lawyers spent their afternoon readying their instant analysis for the newsies and print reporters. Comments ranged across the board, with some arguing that Rather had gotten a raw deal and others that it was nothing more than sour grapes.
For CBS, however, no one thought Rather's move would bode well.