Rather to resign as anchor for CBS in March

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

From staff and wire reports

Dan Rather, the hard-charging embodiment of CBS News who saw his reputation damaged by an ill-fated report on President Bush's National Guard service, said Tuesday he will step down as "CBS Evening News" anchor March 9 after nearly a quarter-century in the job.

Rather, 73, will become a correspondent for both editions of "60 Minutes," saying he looked forward to "pouring my heart" into investigative reporting.

John Roberts and Scott Pelley are frequently mentioned as in-house candidates to succeed him, but CBS News -- a distant third in evening news ratings behind NBC and ABC -- also will look elsewhere.

Rather replaced broadcast legend Walter Cronkite in 1981 and lasted even longer than his predecessor's 19 years. Rather, Tom Brokaw of NBC and Peter Jennings of ABC competed at the top ranks of network news for more than two decades as the world -- and world of news -- changed around them. Brokaw leaves NBC's "Nightly News" next week.

Rather told The Associated Press that the guard story had nothing to do with his announcement.

"Everybody will have their own thoughts about this, but ... this was a separate decision apart from that," he said in an interview.

Mike Smythe, general manager of CBS affiliate KFVS12 in Cape Girardeau, hopes that the network will replace Rather with someone of similar moxy.

"He had his share of problems," Smythe said. "But he is an old-line type of guy -- a solid news guy who's going to be missed."

Smythe, who's followed Rather since long before he took over the CBS anchor spot, said Rather has been a blessing to both KFVS12 and the industry as a whole.

The feeling is not universal.

"I for one will be extremely happy to see him replaced," said Cape Girardeau Mayor Jay Knudtson. "Anybody would bring a sense of refreshment to his job."

Knudtson's reason for this criticism was what he termed as Rather's clear alignment with more liberal viewpoints. He said rather left no doubt about his allegiance and loyalties to the left, and this jeopardized the integrity of the stories he reported. The mayor hopes that Rather's successor will help the network steer its coverage more toward the center.

Cape Girardeau's Gerrie McClenahan agrees with the mayor. She said she never cared for Rather, found him lacking personality, believability and balance. She said that she and her husband, Pat, flip their TV tuner from CBS to Fox News, where they find more balance in coverage.

But not all viewers hold hard feelings against the departing anchorman. Daryl Keppler has been watching Rather's broadcasts since he took over for Cronkite. She said she thinks he gives a good review of the news in a professional way. She's sorry to see him retire.

Parting words

Discussions with CBS management about when he would leave began in 1999, were shelved after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and then renewed last summer, Rather said.

CBS News and Rather were undoubtedly weighing whether timing the announcement before or after the investigative panel's release would be better, said Ken Auletta, media columnist for The New Yorker magazine.

"I'm sure one of the things that Rather was doing here was thinking about his legacy," Auletta said. "It must be frustrating for a guy like this who has spent 24 years doing this and building up his career to be tainted by an event that he didn't have control over."

Rather, whose Texas roots were evident in his folksy aphorisms, joined CBS News in 1962 and covered President Kennedy's assassination in Dallas a year later. He became a White House reporter in the Nixon administration and his combative style was captured in a memorable moment when Nixon, at a news conference, grumbled to him: "Are you running for something?"

"No, sir, Mr. President," Rather shot back. "Are you?"

Together with Jennings and Brokaw, Rather's continuous coverage in the wake of Sept. 11 drew praise for helping a nation come to grips with an unimaginable tragedy. He scored several scoops, including anchoring the CBS report that offered the first pictures from the Abu Ghraib prison scandal earlier this year.

But his career was also dogged by incidents that attested to a tightly wound persona. In 1987, he walked off the evening news set in anger after CBS delayed the broadcast for a tennis match, leaving the network with dead air for six minutes. Four months later, then-Vice President George H.W. Bush, angered by a line of questioning from Rather, asked if he'd like to have his career judged by the walk-off.

Rather also claimed to be accosted once on a New York street by a strange man who beat him, asking, "Kenneth, what is the frequency." It became an odd cultural touchstone. The rock band R.E.M. wrote a song about it.

Southeast Missourian staff writer Tony Rehagen contributed to this story

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