Disgraced former anchor Dan Rather knows a thing or two about “alternative facts.”
So, in a sense, Rather, 85, was the perfect guest for Chris Matthews’ “Hardball” on Monday. But in an ironic twist worthy of an Alanis Morissette lyric, the veteran newsman – who once used forged documents as the basis for a politically damning report about former President George W. Bush – took President Trump’s counselor Kellyanne Conway to task for her language defending Press Secretary Sean Spicer.
Conway dubbed Spicer’s interpretation of events surrounding Trump’s inauguration as “alternative facts.” For the ex-anchor – who steadfastly refused to apologize or fully acknowledge the counterfeit Bush documents even after CBS retracted the story – this phrase was a step too far.
“To say it was unfortunate is to put it mildly,” Rather said at the beginning of a lengthy monologue. “This is a big mistake. Listen, we cannot…none of us can go into this world of alternative facts. Listen, two plus two equals four, that’s a fact, there’s no alternative to it. Water runs downhill. That’s a fact. It snows in Alaska. There’s sand dunes in Saudi Arabia. These are facts.
“This idea of alternative facts – this is a propaganda tool. And, look, you and I know Miss Conway is a very smart lady, and she didn’t just offhandedly say this. They made this point before. I don’t think that even most of the...Trump supporters who really believe in him, want us to deal in a world of alternative facts. Facts and the truth, or as close as it is humanly possible to get to the truth, are at the very foundation of our democracy and dealing with an informed citizenry.”
Rather’s retirement from the "CBS Evening News" in 2005 was likely sped up after the Bush incident. Rather’s report used phony documents in a Sept. 8, 2004, segment alleging Bush went AWOL from the Texas Air National Guard in the 1960s and 1970s. But typography experts quickly found issues with the documents, which were soon exposed as forgeries. Rather initially refused to retract the story, instead on Sept. 20 apologizing but only conceding that he couldn’t “vouch” for the documents’ “authenticity.” CBS, however, retracted the story and fired several people involved in its production – but not Rather.
In a story about the Rather scandal, The New York Times used a headline terming the report “fake but accurate,” which may even go beyond “alternative facts.”