Crusty old Dan Rather checked out as CBS news anchorman last night after 24 years, his reckless crusade against the sitting president his downfall.
Here is his on-air benediction:
- We have shared a lot in the 24 years we’ve been meeting here each evening. And before I say good night, this night, I need to say thank you.
Thank you to the hundreds 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 thanks to all of you who have let us into your homes, night after night. It has been a privilege, and one never taken lightly.
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 those who found themselves closest to the events of Sept. 11; to our soldiers in dangerous places; to those who have endured the tsunami and to all who have suffered natural disasters and who must find the will to rebuild; to the oppressed and to those whose lot it is to struggle, in financial hardship or in failing health; to my fellow journalists in places where reporting the truth means risking all; and to each of you.
For the CBS Evening News, Dan Rather reporting.
After years of toiling in third place in the ratings behind ABC’s Peter Jennings and then NBC’s Tom Brokaw, Rather came in first on his way out, the same position he held on his way in after replacing Walter Cronkite in 1981. CBS averaged a 7.3 rating among the top 56 markets in the country, according to Nielsen Media Research. NBC’s Nightly News had a 6.5 rating and ABC’s World News Tonight was at 6.4.
Regarding his Bushy bete noir, CBS and Rather say:
- On Sept. 8, 2004, Rather did a report for the Wednesday edition of 60 Minutes which raised questions about President George W. Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard. Included in the report were documents that purported to show that Mr. Bush received preferential treatment.
But after further investigation, CBS could no longer vouch for the authenticity of the documents. Rather apologized for the report: “I want to say personally and directly, I’m sorry.”
“We should have been more rigorous in trying to establish the validity of the documents,” says Rather, adding, “First and foremost is that four people lost their jobs over it. And I never have them far from my mind. I regret every nanosecond when I let anybody at CBS News down, and even more, when I let the audience down. It’s painful to me.”
An independent panel looked into the matter and concluded mistakes were made in the competitive “rush to be first on the story,” but found no political bias.
“I suppose, on one level, there’s a continuity between this story and Dan’s experience. Because the story of Dan’s journalistic career is one of pursuit of a story. And this was pursuit of a story,” says Stringer, former president of CBS News, and now chairman and CEO of Sony Corp of America.
“You could say that playing it safe would have had Dan always be an anchor man, and never get attached to dangerous stories. But he’s inclined to be lightning.”
“I have my weaknesses,” admits Rather. “I’ve made my mistakes, but the one mistake I’ve tried hard not to make is to say, ‘OK. I know which way the wind is blowing, and I’m gonna tailor my reporting to fit that.’ Ain’t gonna do that. Haven’t. Don’t. Won’t.”
“Time has a way of introducing wisdom to someone’s legacy and history,” says Stringer. “You’ll remember Dan for all those images of Dan on the front lines of every major story since the Civil Rights crisis – and being committed to the telling of those stories. That legacy will be a window into broadcast journalism that will become more valuable as time passes.”
That’s probably true, but the hubris that made the events that came to be known as “Rathergate” possible will be remembered as well, as will its status as a watershed event in the mainstreaming of the blogosphere.