CORRECTED: Dan Rather says in talks to leave CBS
(Corrects year of reporting scandal in second paragraph)
By Claudia Parsons
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Dan Rather, once one of the most
powerful men in U.S. television news, says he is preparing to
leave the CBS network after more than four decades as an
anchorman and reporter.
Rather, whose reputation was tarnished by a reporting
scandal in 2004, said in an interview published on Thursday on
trade magazine Television Week’s Web site that he was in talks
to leave CBS News when his contract expires in November.
“Finishing details are being worked out for me to leave CBS
News after 44 years,” he said, adding that the situation would
be resolved soon.
Both CBS Corp. and CBS News officials declined to comment
on earlier reports on Thursday that the veteran reporter would
leave the flagship news magazine show “60 Minutes” in November.
But the jackals were out and Vanity Fair media columnist
Michael Wolff said a Washington Post story saying CBS
executives had decided there was no future role for Rather was
an effort to drive him out “in the lowest possible manner.”
Rather, 74, did not return calls for comment.
The newsman has been reporting for “60 Minutes” since he
stepped down as anchor of the main CBS evening news last year
after 24 years. His final months were marred by a reporting
scandal that tarnished his reputation.
In January 2005, an independent panel found that CBS News
failed to authenticate documents used to substantiate a
September 8, 2004, broadcast that said President George W. Bush
received preferential treatment while serving in the Texas Air
National Guard during the Vietnam War. The broadcast came about
two months before Bush’s re-election for a second term and CBS
was criticized for rushing out the story.
Rather, known for his blunt questioning and homespun style,
was criticized but escaped disciplinary action.
CHANGING OF THE GUARD
Rather’s departure as anchor was part of a changing of the
guard in network news, which has come under growing pressure to
compete with cable and Internet news services.
Former “Today” show host Katie Couric will take over in
September as anchor of the main CBS evening news and she is
also slated to contribute to “60 Minutes.”
CNN’s Anderson Cooper has also been signed up as a
part-time contributor, adding to the pressure for space after
the cancellation of the midweek edition of “60 Minutes.”
A CBS source confirmed that Rather’s contract at “60
Minutes” was due to expire in November. “I’m convinced that
management has shown he’s finished,” the source said.
“They obviously chose a rather rude way to show him the
door,” the source added.
In an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer published on
Wednesday, Rather said he had barely exchanged more than a
“hello” with CBS News president Sean McManus for months. He
said he had been in contract talks for more than three months.
“We’ve had no conversations about carrying on at ’60
Minutes,”‘ he was quoted as saying. “My position is, I want to
work. Maybe it’s my hubris, but I still think there are things
I can contribute, and I want an opportunity to do that.”
Rather went on to say that he had listened to some
proposals for his future elsewhere.
“I have no sadness,” Rather said.
Vanity Fair’s Wolff said CBS considered Rather an
uncomfortable reminder of last year’s scandal. “They feel
embarrassed by what they did to him … they just want him to
go away,” Wolff said.
“I’m sure they’ve been trying to get him out of there for
weeks if not months, and he’s not going, so now they’re just
trying to embarrass him out of there,” Wolff said.
(Additional reporting by Robert MacMillan and Kenneth Li)