for Dan Rather
Brief, clipped signoff for controversial anchor
By Diego Vasquez
When Dan Rather walked onto the set last night to
give his final “CBS Evening News” broadcast, he had one consolation,
looking back over decades. No one in public life would not note his
In that regard, Rather's last broadcast was eerily reminiscent of
the final moment in the White House of Richard Nixon, the president
Republicans long accused the CBS anchor of helping topple three decades
ago as a Washington correspondent.
In Rather's final days, as in Nixon's, old enemies resurfaced to
condemn, old allies to praise, as his life and work as a journalist were
rolled out as entrails to be examined and reconsidered, debated and argued
about. Rather's career has been long and as controversial as
it has been long, and through it all the Texan has remained an enigma to
all but a few close friends.
For his viewers last night, Rather kept his shield intact, signing
off exactly 24 years to the day from when he slid in for the retiring
Rather was subdued, his good-bye brief.
“We have shared a lot in the 24 years we’ve been meeting
here each evening,” he said. “And before I say good night this night,
I need to say thank you. Thank you to the thousands of wonderful
professionals at CBS News, past and present, with whom it has been my
honor to work over these years.
“And a deeply felt thank you to all of you, who have let us
into your homes night after night. It has been a privilege and one never
“Not long after I first came to the anchor chair I briefly signed
off using the word ‘courage.’ I want to return to it now, in a
different way, to a nation still nursing a broken heart for what happened
here in 2001, and especially to those who found themselves closest to the
events of September 11th.
“To our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines in dangerous
places. To those who have endured the tsunami, and to all who have
suffered natural disasters and who must now find the will to rebuild.
“To the oppressed and to those whose lot it is to struggle
in financial hardship and failing health. To my fellow journalists in
places where reporting the truth means risking all.
“And, to each of you, courage.”
There is another irony to Rather's pained good-bye, one not
talked about much in all the recent discussions of Memogate and the “60
Minutes II” story behind it last fall about President Bush’s National
Guard service that appears to have been based on forged documents.
Rather is being pushed out of the "Evening News"
yet he's remaining with “60 Minutes,” where his botched story aired.
Why? It suggests, as many have suspected in these recent months,
that for all of the hullabaloo over Memogate, including a protracted CBS
investigation and scathing independent report, the real issue for CBS was Rather's
sinking "Evening News" ratings.
And by all appearances, CBS has been most anxious to see
Rather go. When Tom Brokaw stepped away from “NBC Nightly News” back
in December, he was toasted for weeks, getting a warm and fuzzy sendoff on
shows like “Today” and “Dateline.”
All Rather got was a 60-minute “in his own words”
retrospective on his career. That and an earful from CBS colleagues, little
of it pleasant.
In a recent issue of The New Yorker, Mike Wallace said, “He’s
uptight and occasionally contrived. It’s his style, and it’s been a
very effective style. God knows, I believe him. But I don’t find him as
satisfying to watch.” Wallace said he preferred Brokaw or ABC’s Peter
In the same story “60 Minutes” creator Don Hewitt said:
“The ‘Evening News’ is like Miss America, only it’s Mr. America.
If you’re in a three-network race and you come in third, then the public
is against you.”
Hewitt also said he preferred Jennings.
And earlier this week on CNN’s “Wolf Blitzer Reports,”
Cronkite took his own shots, saying: “It surprised quite a few people at
CBS and elsewhere that, without being able to pull up the ratings beyond
third in a three-man field, that they tolerated his being there for so
About Rather’s replacement Bob Schieffer, Cronkite said, “He is, to
my mind, the man who, quite frankly, although Dan did a fine job, I would
like to have seen him there a long time ago. He would have given the
others a real run for their money.”
Some have stepped forward to defend Rather, and one is Carl
Bernstein, the former Washington Post reporter who, with Bob Woodward,
broke the original Watergate story that ended Nixon's term in the White
House. Yesterday, appearing on Fox News Channel, Bernstein said Rather was
still one of the nation's top TV reporters, and he disputed the contention
of conservatives that Rather was driven by a liberal agenda.
Most of all, opined Bernstein, Rather never walked away from
a story. And in that one area conservative critics of Rather are in
agreement. Ratings poison though he might be, Rather was best out
reporting on the street. The honor of being named CBS anchor 24 years ago
was a great one, but one bestowed on a man who probably would have been
best left on his feet talking into a camera. Ultimately, and to his
credit, Rather was a reporter who chased stories, not ratings.
When he walked away last night, Rather was walking away from
a job, not the story.
March 10, 2005
Diego Vasquez is a staff writer for