$70-Million Nit

Los Angeles Times , Washington Post's Eugene Robinson, Fox, CNN, MSNBC make common error in reporting Rather's lawsuit

Reminder to headline writers and reporters on the Dan Rather-CBS lawsuit story: He didn’t file a “$70-million lawsuit” last week. As a wise westerner points out to The Audit, it is marginally relevant that he’s seeking $70 million in damages, but in fact that suit has no value yet. That will be up to a jury, if it gets that far.

The number is more or less random. Rather is seeking at least $20 million in compensatory damages and gets there through verbally agreements allegedly made during contract extension talks. He made $6 million a year, according to the suit (linked to in this Los Angeles Times account), and his last contract expired in 2006.

This isn’t to say the suit has no merit. Who knows? But the fact that Rather is suing his ex-employer is the news. Assigning a value to a civil suit is tricky and not worth it. News organization making this mistake miss an opportunity to help readers understand the civil justice system.

I mean, he could just as well be seeking a date with Ms. Universe in a diving bell. A ‘67 Camaro with a griddle in the back.

I’m just saying that what the man is seeking is as relevant as sunglasses on a three-legged mule, barbecue sauce in a box of Cracker Jacks, etc.

It’s not the biggest deal in the world, but it makes The Audit hotter than a firecracker thrown at one of those dragon costumes at a Chinese New Year parade. In July. In an equatorial country. On an unseasonably hot day. Just knock it off.

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Dean Starkman Dean Starkman runs The Audit, CJR's business section, and is the author of The Watchdog That Didn't Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism (Columbia University Press, January 2014). Follow Dean on Twitter: @deanstarkman.