It was interesting to hear Villanueva—someone unconcerned with the parochial fixations of Washington and Manhattan media cliques—home in on “exposure” and “publicity.” In her calculated approach to professional salvation, she seemed to suggest an alternate, apolitical idea of Rather, based not on all the attempts to “understand” or vilify him (for example, Villanueva knew next to nothing about Rather’s lawsuit), but on something more intriguing: the way, perhaps, that his omnipresence on television in the latter half of the twentieth century branded his visage upon the American psyche. Since 1979, each of Rather’s contracts with CBS included an airtime provision, guaranteeing Rather a considerable amount of prime on-air spots, which was understood as dually beneficial: it increased Rather’s exposure, the lifeblood of a television personality, while bolstering CBS News’s credibility, since the anchor was its personification. As went the fortunes of Dan Rather, in other words, went the fortunes of CBS News. Indeed, the rulings thus far in Rather’s lawsuit leave open the possibility that CBS owes Rather financial damages for breaking its fiduciary duty to him—an extra-contractual, symbiotic relationship based on loyalty and trust. This may help explain why CBS let twelve days pass after the 60 Minutes II report on Bush aired before backtracking from its support of Rather and saying it couldn’t guarantee the authenticity of the documents that indicated Bush got preferential treatment. “Rather was us,” a longtime colleague of Rather’s said to me. “We wanted to see him succeed, and we weren’t into self-immolation.”

It’s worth noting that in the wake of General Westmoreland’s 1982 libel case against CBS, the network assigned one of its own executive producers, Burton Benjamin, to investigate the alleged journalistic transgressions. In 2004, however, the network tapped two outsiders—former attorney general Dick Thornburgh and Louis Boccardi, the former head of The Associated Press—to investigate the Bush story. Their report is published on the Internet for all to see, while CBS had literally begged the presiding judge in the Westmoreland case to not release Benjamin’s findings, calling them “oppressive.”

The disparity underscores not only two vastly different media eras, but informs a final example of Rather’s misreading of his place in the equation. During those awkward twelve days following the 60 Minutes II piece, Rather reported on the fallout from his own story on the Evening News, announcing with a kind of stoic defiance that CBS would stand behind it, as it was based on “a preponderance of evidence.” It is no surprise that Rather helped write the script for many of these shows; the theme is straight from Murrow. Once, during one of our interviews, Rather had mentioned a scene from Good Night, and Good Luck that spoke to his decision to defend the Bush piece even when the walls of his universe were crumbling. It concerned a story on Milo Radulovich, an Air Force reserve officer facing dismissal because of his father’s alleged Communist sympathies. Shortly before the story was to air, an Air Force general and a lieutenant colonel came to visit Fred Friendly, the creator and producer of See It Now, and pressured him not to run it. “He was cold steel to them,” Rather said. “He listened, but he didn’t give them an edge. ‘Let’s not have any misunderstanding,’ he said. ‘We’re doing this piece. Murrow believes in it, you’re not going to talk us out of it.’ ” Rather paused, and then said, “In the old way of doing things, management protected the talent.”

Jesse Sunenblick is a writer who lives in Brooklyn.