Former CBS News anchor Dan Rather sued his former employer today for $70 million, claiming that the company failed to properly investigate the handling of a discredited story on President Bush's National Guard service and did not give Rather enough airtime -- in violation of his contract.
Rather claims that CBS marginalized him within the network and intentionally sought to tarnish his reputation because of its own political agenda.
The suit was filed against the network, its corporate parent Viacom Inc., and three of his former bosses: Viacom Inc. Chairman Sumner Redstone, CBS News CEO Leslie Moonves and Andrew Heyward, former president of CBS News.
The suit, filed in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, claims that CBS and its executives made Rather "a scapegoat" in an attempt "to pacify the White House."
CBS said in response that "these complaints are old news and this lawsuit is without merit."
Rather declined, through his law firm Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal LLP, to comment on the case.
The lawsuit centers around the National Guard report and how CBS treated him during and after the fallout from the report.
Rather says in his suit that Redstone made it clear that a Bush victory would be good for Viacom and that it was "important to Vicacom to have good relations with the Oval Office."
The former anchor also says he was silenced from making public statements to defend his reputation because CBS made several promises to him -- which he says never materialized -- in exchange for his silence.
They include a contract extension and a promise that if Rather hired his own private investigator to look in the National Guard story that CBS would share any of its findings with the investigator.
Rather's lawyers said that in the summer of 2004, Rather and CBS agreed on a contract extension that would end his tenure as anchor and keep him on as a full-time correspondent for "60 Minutes" and "60 Minutes II." He would be paid approximately $24 million for his work through June 2010. The contract was never put in writing.
Essentially, they said, this was no way to treat the face of the network.
"Mr. Rather was not only a valued four-decade employee of CBS, but for twenty-four years he occupied the most visible spot at CBS, the sole anchor of its flagship broadcast, the CBS Evening News. For many years, Mr. Rather was the face of CBS News," his lawyers wrote.
The suit is the latest jab in a feud between Rather and CBS executive Moonves. In June, Rather attacked Moonves, saying he "doesn't know about news."
Moonves had said earlier Rather's remarks that CBS was "tarting up" its newscast with Katie Couric, Rather's successor, were "sexist."
The network has lagged behind ABC and NBC since Couric took the anchor chair on the nightly newscast, one of the most prominent jobs in journalism.
Rather has attacked CBS, accusing Moonves of mishandling the newscast by trying to "dumb it down, tart it up in hopes of attracting a younger audience." Moonves has called those comments sexist.
Since leaving CBS, Rather has languished in obscurity at HDNet, a national cable and satellite channel that has movies, news, and sports programming.
Rather was forced to step down as anchor in March 2005 after an investigation found errors in the CBS report on Bush's National Guard service. Rather claims in his suit that he was not given enough airtime on "60 Minutes" after the incident, in violation of his contract.
Rather is seeking $20 million in compensatory damages and $50 million in punitive damages.