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Rather's Radio Rah-Rahs

Why is it, I wonder, that Dan Rather is incapable of keeping his opinions to himself when reporting news? Nobody's forgotten Rather's warm wishes for Bill Clinton at a CBS affiliates meeting on May 27,1993: "If we could be one-hundredth as great as you and Hillary Rodham Clinton have been in the White House, we'd take it right now and walk away winners...Thank you very much and tell Mrs. Clinton we respect her and we're pulling for her."

Rest assured Rather's love affair with the Clintons continues. He's betrayed it twice this year on "60 Minutes II." First came his cozy post-impeachment interview with the President. Then this month, Rather repeated the favor for Hillary, gushing over her possible Senate campaign: "Once a political lightning rod, today she is political lightning."

Now, with Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings riding their fame onto the best-seller list, Rather has arrived with "Deadlines and Datelines," a compilation of his regular CBS Radio commentaries over the last few years. There's nothing in it from 1999, which is probably fortuitious. Rather's latest radio commentaries are perfect companions to his Clinton TV interviews: servile to a fault.

On May 25, he addressed the Cox report with spin that would make Lanny Davis proud: "Some of the stealing goes back at least as far as the Carter presidency. The bulk of the actual thefts appears to have been done during the Reagan and Bush presidencies. Some of it lapped over into the Clinton years...So far, most the questions center on the Clinton administration. Which is fine. But there are a lot of questions to be answered about this, covering many years and several administrations."

And yet Rather didn't ask Clinton a single question about Chinese espionage when he had the chance. He asked about being the husband of a Senator.

On May 24, Rather complained female appointees had few friends in Washington. "Republicans have opened renewed attacks on Attorney General Janet Reno. This is not big news. She has been a target of Republicans for removal from the Justice Department from practically the first day she came into the job as the first woman ever to hold it." Sexism rules, Dan concluded: "Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has been under heavy fire lately, too. Now Reno is under heavier fire than ever. Not a good time for women in the administration." It didn't occur to our intrepid reporter that some people might think they are utterly incompetent whatever their gender.

On May 20, Defense Secretary Bill Cohen got a radio salute from Gunga Dan: "He is a trim, muscular man of medium height and steady blue eyes. He is a former prosecutor, mayor, congressman and senator. Which is to say: politically he did not just tumble off the turnip truck. The war, he says, is going better, much better, than perhaps most Americans know. The vice tightens on Slobodan Milosevic every day and night, Cohen says, with NATO casualties practically nil...In word and spirit, he radiates the promise and the determination that we will win....Others may not believe it. He does, and so does the President, as the war heads into its third month." This is the same Dan Rather who asked Saddam Hussein if the Gulf War was "Vietnam in the sand for the United States."

But that was then (Bush), this is now (Clinton). On April 30, Rather suddenly condemned giving aid and comfort to the enemy. "The finger-pointing, backside-covering, and back-stabbing going on in Washington gives Milosevic and his people pleasure. It's to their benefit...Who could blame the Serbs for believing that, as a war capital, Washington owes much to the early work of the Marx Brothers? Sad but true, as long as the blame game rages."

But my favorite coddle-the-Cabinet moment came on May 12 when Rather created the visual image of Robert Rubin in a tutu: "Make no mistake: When a strong, valuable player such as Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin goes out of your government's lineup, it's a loss. Quarterback Joe Montana leaving the 49ers. Dame Margot Fonteyn quitting the British Royal Ballet. Whatever analogy you may want to make, nobody loses a player such as this and fails to feel the effects. Rubin has been one of the major reasons the U.S. economy has done so well under President Clinton, after the down times of the late Bush administration and some of the Reagan years. " He added in discussing partisan claims about the economy that "it is not partisan to say that during the Clinton years the economy has been outstandingly good. That's a fact."

That was also fact during the Reagan years. It's been over a decade since Reagan left office. Can you name me one time Dan Rather ever credited him?