Nevertheless, I believe that Rather should not be ignominiously fired. He should be spared. Why? Because he apologized. And he did so unreservedly, without passing the buck. And we have to begin to forge a culture in America where apologies that are unaccompanied by "buts" (as in, "I apologize, but...") are accepted. Only in this way can we restore to our broken culture the idea of personal accountability.
It's not easy for guys at Rather's level to ever say they're sorry. So when they do, it should be applauded. Fully and unconditionally. Some will wish to examine his motives for the apology. Others will say he had no choice once the forgeries were exposed. But I personally will not examine his motives. I will not scrutinize his intentions. He was man enough, big enough to apologize, and I admire him for it, even though what he did in coming after the president with unsubstantiated allegations was despicable.
I met Dan Rather at CBS studios four years ago when I was interviewed for a segment on Sixty Minutes II, and I was impressed. He struck me as a humble and gentlemanly Midwesterner. After the interview, Rather gave me a full tour of CBS's studios and could not have been kinder. Last year he saw me at a Broadway play and came forward to greet me. We talked throughout the intermission. Again, I was struck by his earthiness, approachability, and humility.
That's why he so disappointed me with the hatchet job he did on President Bush with the phony National Guard documents. Not only did Rather stupidly stake his reputation on the fraudulent papers, he even flared up angrily-on the air-at those who dared question them. As more and more experts questioned their authenticity, Rather dug in his heels, refusing to objectively examine their veracity.
And he has paid a big price for his obstinacy, and possibly even his bias against Bush. After all, it did seem that Rather was prepared to stake all his journalistic credibility on this one story.
Everyone knows that George W. Bush may have been a profligate and misguided youth. The country knows about his alcoholism and even knows that his own wife threatened to leave him if he didn't get off the bottle. The country knows this, and many don't care. The George W. Bush who may have been a bum in his youth is not the same man who became this country's president. He embarked upon that rarest of things, an authentic religious transformation. A makeover based not on stupid nip-and-tuck surgical procedures, like so many of our damaged Hollywood celebrities, but a radical transformation of faith.
So why Dan Rather was so hell-bent on sticking to an old, stale story is beyond me.
But now that he has apologized, I believe that none should call for his resignation. Elton John famously wrote, "Sorry is the hardest word to say." In America, that certainly is true. Most people only say they're sorry when they're forced to by circumstance (think of Bill Clinton and Kobe Bryant). And the only way we're going to change that sorry situation is by regularly demonstrating the power of an apology. We have to show people that sincere apologies can change a dire situation into a blessed one. We dare not shove an apology in a person's face. And we dare not tell an individual who has offered a sincere apology, "Ah, but you only said it because you had to, because you were caught."
Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement, is this week, and Jewish tradition declares that when we come before G-d and ask for His forgiveness, He turns right back to us and judges us by our own standards: When people came to us and apologized, did we accept it?
I do a lot of marital counseling, and I can tell you that husbands and wives find it nearly impossible to say they're sorry to one another, even when they know that doing so will bring happiness into their lives and resolve an outstanding dispute. There are two principal reasons for this. The first is that many people are so stubborn that they would rather be right than be at peace. And I always tell them, it's better to be wrong and be married, than to be right and be divorced. But the second, more important reason is that they fear saying they're sorry because they think it will just be shoved back in their face. "Oh, now you're sorry? Huh? After you caused me so much pain. Take your apology and shove it."
If it is so difficult for us to apologize in our private lives, imagine how humiliating it is for someone like Dan Rather to say he's sorry in front of the entire country, and on his own broadcast. It's deeply embarrassing to be proven wrong, especially for the country's leading TV anchor. Rather could have blamed everyone else for his mistake. He could have said it was the fault of his producers. Instead, he said he was sorry-directly, forcefully, and simply. And he once again earned my respect for doing so.
He could go further, however, and apologize to the man he falsely maligned. Because even though he may be the most powerful man in the world, George W. Bush is still someone, like the rest of us, whose reputation is as important to him as his very life.