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Bittersweet end for Rather at CBS News

June 21, 2006

By Paul J. Gough

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) – Dan Rather’s high-flying
and sometimes controversial career at CBS News came to the end
of the road on Tuesday with the announcement that he would
retire from the network after 44 years.

Rather, 74, had been under contract through the end of
November, but it was clear that a new deal with the network
that would include a correspondent’s job at “60 Minutes” wasn’t
in the cards.

It’s unclear what Rather will do now, but he’s sifting
through offers for his post-CBS career, including an offer to
host a weekly newscast at HDNet.

“I leave now most of all with the desire to once again do
regular, meaningful reporting,” Rather said in a statement
released through his publicist Tuesday afternoon. “My departure
before the term of my contract represents CBS’ final
acknowledgement, after a protracted struggle, that they had not
lived up to their obligations to allow me to do substantive
work there.”

Rather, who declined interview requests Monday and Tuesday,
had rejected CBS’ offer of an office but without a steady
assignment. “It just isn’t in me to sit around doing nothing.
So I will do the work I love elsewhere, and I look forward to
sharing details about that soon.”

Rather had hoped to finish out his career at CBS News but
wasn’t happy with the fact that he wasn’t getting the “60
Minutes” airtime others had gotten. He’ll apparently receive
his salary through the remainder of his contract but didn’t
receive any more to leave earlier.

CBS News president Sean McManus said Tuesday that “we
couldn’t reach an agreement on a workload at ’60 Minutes’ that
made sense for Dan and for CBS News.” He declined comment
further.

A source close to CBS management said that the decision was
made because the end of the season for “60 Minutes” seemed like
as good a time as any.

“It’s never an easy decision,” said the source. The Rather
departure coincides within a few weeks of the arrival of former
“Today” show co-host Katie Couric, who will take over Rather’s
old job as anchor/managing editor of “CBS Evening News.”

While CBS issued a laudatory, five-page news release about
the former anchor with quotes from McManus and CBS Corp. CEO
Leslie Moonves, there were tensions below the surface with
Rather deciding overnight not to be quoted in the release.

It also wasn’t clear whether Rather would agree to a CBS
offer of a retirement party celebrating his four decades at the
network.

CBS News also said it would air a prime-time special on
Rather’s long career sometime in the fall as well as make a
contribution to Rather’s alma mater of Sam Houston State
University in Huntsville, Texas.

The journalism/communications building is named after
Rather, the school’s most famous grad. CBS did that on its own
as a gesture of goodwill, according to sources.

Another Texan, Bob Schieffer, followed him as anchor of
“CBS Evening News” and spoke warmly of the man he had first met
during the weekend of the John F. Kennedy assassination in
November 1963. First joining CBS News in 1969, Schieffer was
assigned to the Washington bureau where Rather was then a star
White House correspondent.

“He was very kind to me. I was the rookie in the bureau,
but because I was from Texas, he was very kind. I always
remembered that,” Schieffer recalled Tuesday. “Dan has been a
big part of my life for more than 30 years, so I’m going to
really miss him as a colleague and as a friend.”

Schieffer said Rather is a member of the top-tier legacy at
CBS News that includes Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite and
Mike Wallace.

“Dan was a major figure in American journalism for a long
time. He was larger than life in many ways,” Schieffer said.
“Sometimes his successes were larger than life and sometimes
his mistakes were larger than life.”

Rather’s successes are many, from his distinguished service
covering the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement of the
1960s to coverage of Watergate and every major story since,
including wars in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Iraq and Kuwait.

But it’s some of his high-profile tangles — with
then-President Richard M. Nixon and then-Vice President George
H.W. Bush — that gave Rather a bad reputation in the eyes of
many conservatives who felt the Texan was too liberal.

And it was Rather’s small but visible role in the reporting
of the now-discredited story on President Bush’s National Guard
service that put a cloud over the latter stages of his career.

“60 Minutes” commentator Andy Rooney said Tuesday that
Rather had made a mistake among many at CBS News when he
declined to take a stand and leave when “60 Minutes Wednesday”
executive producer Josh Howard was forced to resign.

But Rooney acknowledged there was sadness about Rather’s
departure. “I feel bad about Dan. He’s a decent guy, and it’s
too bad,” Rooney said.

“48 Hours Mystery” executive producer Susan Zirinsky, who
has known Rather since the early 1970s, said Tuesday afternoon
that the power of Rather’s record over 44 years at CBS is
remarkable.

“The journey that he has taken is so remarkable and one
that he can be really proud of,” Zirinsky said. “People at CBS
have stepped back and taken the wide shot over what he has
(contributed) to the passion and energy and history” of his
era’s great events.

Rem Rieder, editor of the American Journalism Review, said
Rather will be remembered for his energy and enthusiasm as much
anything else, including his quirky “Ratherisms” that seemed to
pop out of his mouth.

“He epitomizes zeal for covering the news. This is someone
who lives to cover the big story, to be on the scene, to go
there and see it and feel it and report it,” Rieder said. “It
sometimes leads to ridicule, in the ‘Gunga Dan’ nickname, but
the impulse there is a terrific one and one of great importance
to journalism.”

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter


Source: reuters



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