Dan Rather

From Academic Kids

Missing image
Dan Rather, from a telecast in October 2004.

Daniel Irvin Rather, Jr. (born October 31, 1931) is an American journalist, who served as anchor of the CBS Evening News from March 9, 1981, until March 9, 2005.



Rather was born in Wharton, Texas, son of Daniel Irvin Rather Sr. and his wife, the former Byrl Veda Page. 1953 he received a bachelor's degree in journalism from Sam Houston State Teachers College. Rather began his career in 1950 as an Associated Press reporter in Huntsville. Later, he was a reporter for United Press International (19501952), several Texas radio stations, and the Houston Chronicle (19541955). In 1959, he entered television as a reporter for KTRK-TV in Houston. Prior to joining CBS News, Rather was news director for KHOU-TV, the CBS affiliate in Houston.

In 1961, Rather reported live from the Galveston seawall as Hurricane Carla threatened the Texas coastline. This action, which has been imitated by countless other reporters to this day, impressed the network executives at CBS, and they hired him as a CBS News correspondent in 1962. In his autobiography, Rather notes that back then TV stations didn't have their own radar systems, and of course nobody then had the modern computerized radar that combines the radar image with an outline map. So he took a camera crew to a US Navy radar station in Galveston, where a technician drew a rough outline of the Gulf of Mexico on a sheet of plastic, and held that over the radar display to give Rather's audience an idea of the storm's size and position.

Rather—quite by accident, as described in his autobiography—was the first journalist to report that President John F. Kennedy had died of wounds received from an assassin. He is also known by JFK researchers to have seen the Zapruder film and incorrectly reported that JFK's head went "violently forward" when he was hit. In fact it went violently backwards.

His reporting throughout the Kennedy assassination and subsequent events brought him to the attention of CBS News management, which rewarded him with the White House beat in 1964. After serving as a foreign correspondent for CBS News, he drew the assignment as primary anchor for the CBS Sunday Night News, while serving as White House correspondent during the Richard Nixon presidency.

After Nixon's resignation, Rather took the assignment of chief correspondent for CBS News Special Reports. Some critics wondered whether it was a demotion, but Rather's career with CBS News had one success after another. He became a correspondent of the long-running news show 60 Minutes, just as the program was moved from a Sunday afternoon timeslot to primetime. Success there brought Rather in line to succeed Walter Cronkite as main anchor and Managing Editor of the CBS Evening News.

Rather assumed the position upon Cronkite's retirement, his first broadcast taking place on March 9, 1981. From the beginning of his tenure, it was clear that Rather had a significantly different style of reporting the news. As opposed to the avuncular Cronkite, who ended his newscast with "That's the way it is," Dan Rather searched to find a broadcast ending more suitable to his tastes. For one week during the mid-1980s, Rather had tried ending his broadcasts with the word "courage" and was roundly ridiculed for it. He eventually found a wrap up phrase more modest than Cronkite's and more relaxed than his own previous attempts. For nearly two decades Rather ended the show with "That's part of our world tonight."

While Rather had inherited Cronkite's ratings lead and held it for a few years, his ratings declined as his network competition changed. Simultaneously, CBS went through an institutional crisis and ultimate purchase by Laurence Tisch.

In 1984, Tisch oversaw the layoffs of thousands of CBS News employees, including numerous correspondents such as David Andelman, Fred Graham, Morton Dean, and Ike Pappas. Fewer videotape crews were dispatched to cover stories, numerous bureaus were shuttered. The Evening News was transformed overnight from a newscast featuring enterprise reports from seasoned CBS News correspondents to one in which Rather would read "voice-over" stories to footage shot by other news organizations. The events depicted in the movie Broadcast News are thought to closely parallel those of CBS' downsizing; Rather is thought by many to be the model for the part played by Jack Nicholson, the anchor whose own astronomical salary was deemed sacrosanct as the little people were let go.

For a short time from 1993 to 1995, Rather co-anchored the evening news with Connie Chung. The experiment was cancelled however, and Rather went back to doing the newscast solo. Additionally, competition among cable outlets developed over the next two decades. In an age of 24-hour news on cable and internet news websites, viewership levels fell for network news broadcasts in general.

At the end of Rather's career, the CBS Evening News had fallen to a distant third place in terms of viewership. Although still garnering some 7 million viewers each evening, the broadcast was behind NBC Nightly News and ABC World News Tonight. Rather retired from anchor of the CBS evening news at 7:00 eastern time, 9 March 2005.

Rather is also a columnist whose work is distributed by King Features Syndicate.

His daughter, Robin, works for the Democratic party in Texas.

Journalist history and influence


During the presidency of Richard Nixon, conservative political figures accused Rather of being unfair in his coverage. At a Houston, Texas news conference in 1974, Nixon fielded a question from an ABC reporter, but Rather, still CBS's White House correspondent, jumped in: "Thank you, Mr. President. Dan Rather, of CBS News. Mr. President..." The room filled with jeers and applause, prompting Nixon to joke "Are you running for something?" Rather replied "No, sir, Mr. President. Are you?"

CBS apparently considered firing Rather and its news president met with administration official John Ehrlichman to discuss the situation. According to NBC's Tom Brokaw, the network considered hiring him as its White House correspondent to replace Rather. But CBS' plans to do so were scrapped after word was leaked to the press.

Afghanistan, Reagan and George H.W. Bush

Missing image
Dan Rather gained national recognition for his reports from Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion of 1980

During the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan, Dan Rather was filmed wearing a traditional Mujahadeen headress and garments while reporting from near the front lines. These reports were some of the first by Rather which helped him gain national prominence.

Later on during the 1980s, Rather gained further renown to some for his forceful and skeptical reporting on the Iran-Contra Affair that eventually led to an on-air confrontation he had with then vice-president George H. W. Bush.

This incident was widely believed to have been a notable event in Bush's campaign to win the presidency in the 1988 election. It also marked the beginning of Rather's ratings decline, a slump from which he has never recovered. Bush never forgave him and refused to grant Rather an interview after their initial tangle. His son George W. Bush has apparently followed suit, and has thus far declined to grant Rather an interview during his presidency.

Shortly after the Gulf War began, Dan Rather secured an interview with Saddam Hussein which, among other things, captured the flavor of Saddam's boldness towards the US. [1] (http://www.au.af.mil/au/aul/bibs/pgwar/pergul1.htm)

"There is no powerful and quick strike that a people could deliver, whatever their overall power. The United States depends on the Air Force. The Air Force has never decided a war in the history of wars."
Saddam Hussein in interview with Dan Rather, Aug 29, 1990

However, Hussein underestimated the potential of air power. Persistent bombardment by coalition air power proved instrumental in breaking Iraqi resolve prior to engagement of coalition land forces.

The Wall Within

On June 2, 1988, Dan Rather hosted the CBS News special, The Wall Within. In the special, Dan Rather interviewed six individuals who presented themselves as Vietnam veterans, each purporting to have witnessed horrible acts in Vietnam. Some said that they killed civilians and others said that they saw friends die. Each man talked about the effects that the war had upon their lives such as becoming mentally depressed, becoming unemployed, using drugs, and becoming homeless.

While researching for the book Stolen Valor: How the Vietnam Generation Was Robbed of its Heroes and its History, authors B. G. Burkett and Glenna Whitley claimed they easily obtained the service records of all six men, that documented where each was stationed during the Vietnam War. According to the records, only one of the six men was actually in Vietnam; he had claimed to have been a 16 year-old Navy SEAL but records had show was only an equipment repairman. Though cited widely among pro-war conservatives, the book is not considered authoritative, and is broadly criticized for being altogether dependent on official military records, rather than original journalism, or personal testimony. Neither CBS nor Dan Rather have retracted any of the claims made in the program.


Some conservatives accused Rather of going easy on stories critical of President Bill Clinton. These critics gained further ammunition when The Washington Post revealed Rather had raised money for the Democratic Party of Texas (see Post article (http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A34557-2001Apr3?language=printer)). The incident dogged Rather for weeks and he was asked about it repeatedly by fellow journalists.

Asked why he attended, Rather answered that he didn't ask whether it was a fundraiser, but that he should have. "I take full responsibility for it. I'm responsible and I'm accountable." Without being paid, Rather said he had agreed to discuss election coverage at the backyard of his old friend, Austin City Council member Will Wynn, but which was to his surprise a fundraiser when he arrived.

George W. Bush and the Killian memos

On 60 Minutes on September 8, 2004, Rather went public with a series of documents concerning President George W. Bush's Air National Guard service record, which purported to indicate that Lt. Col. Jerry B. Killian declared Bush unfit for flight status for failure to obey an order to submit to a physical examination. The authenticity of these documents was quickly called into question by experts and critics as well as Killian's son and widow. Most document analysts quoted by the media stated that the memos are forgeries. For nearly two weeks, Rather and his team strongly stood by the memos. Rather and CBS later announced that they could not vouch for the authenticity of the documents. CBS stated that using the memos was a "mistake" and Rather apologized for the incident. Their source, former Texas Army National Guard officer named Bill Burkett, initially misled a CBS producer about the source of the documents and now states they came from another source. The surrounding controversy has been dubbed by some as "Memogate" and "Rathergate". Several CBS employees, including producer Mary Mapes, were asked to resign by CBS management because of the scandal. It is unclear whether Rather was asked to retire, forced to retire, or retired of his own volition.

See Killian documents for more information.

Retirement from the Evening News

Missing image
Dan Rathers receiving applause at the end of his final broadcast

Rather retired as the anchorman and Managing Editor of the "CBS Evening News" in 2005. His last broadcast was March 9, 2005. He worked as the anchorman for 24 years, the longest tenure of anyone in American television history—only Lloyd Robertson of Canada and Brian Henderson of Australia have served longer. He will continue working as a correspondent for "60 Minutes". Bob Schieffer, a fellow Texan and host of Face the Nation took over Rather's position on a interim basis.


Rather is one of the most awarded figures within the journalism community. He has received numerous Emmys, several Peabody awards, and various honorary degrees from universities.

Criticisms of Rather

As one of the last people from the era of network news primacy, Rather is highly regarded within his profession by many long-serving journalists. However, others who have since come into the field express dislike for Rather's methods, views, and delivery. Some argue that Rather is too "folksy" or "old-fashioned".

Conflict along these lines most recently came to light when he refused to run stories about Chandra Levy, a former Congressional intern who went missing for several months before her remains were found in a Washington park about two miles from The White House. Levy disappeared after having an affair with U.S. Rep. Gary Condit (D-Calif.), who was suspected of playing a part in her disappearance. During most of the search for Levy, Rather refused to run any stories about the case and routinely condemned his colleagues for giving air time to the search for her.

Shortly thereafter in 2002, the American press began focusing on kidnappings (especially of children like Elizabeth Smart). This time, Rather followed suit in reporting the story. His defenders interpreted the move as an indication that Rather's power for traditionalism within CBS News had declined.

During a 7 March 2005 appearance on CNN, former CBS anchor Walter Cronkite said the following about Rather: "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 long." In 1987, Cronkite said he would have fired Rather after Dan walked off the set during his broadcast, leaving CBS black for 6 minutes, an eternity in television.

Others have argued on blogs and websites such as RatherBiased.com that Rather's reporting reflected a liberal bias.

Notable incidents

1968 Democratic convention

During live coverage of the 1968 Democratic National Convention, Rather attempted to interview a delegate who appeared as though he were being forcibly removed by men without identification badges.

As Rather approached the delegate to question the apparent strong-arm tactics of the Chicago political machine, he was punched in the stomach by one of the men knocking him to the ground. "He lifted me right off the floor and put me away. I was down, the breath knocked out of me, as the whole group blew on by me...In the CBS control room, they had switched the camera onto me just as I was slugged."

"Kenneth, what is the frequency?"

In October 1986, as Rather was walking along Park Avenue in Manhattan to his apartment, he was attacked and punched from behind by a man who demanded to know, "Kenneth, what is the frequency?" As the assailant pummeled and kicked Rather, he kept repeating the question over and over again. In describing the incident, Rather said, "I got mugged. Who understands these things? I didn't and I don't now. I didn't make a lot of it at the time and I don't now. I wish I knew who did it and why, but I have no idea."

The incident and Rather's account led some to doubt the veracity of Rather's story. Nevertheless, the story entered popular lore and remained unsolved for some time. The incident inspired a song called "Kenneth, What's The Frequency?" by the band Game Theory in 1987, and in 1994 the band R.E.M. released the much more widely-known song "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" on the album Monster. It became the subject of many jokes over the years and slang for a confused or clueless person. Rather actually sang with the band when they performed the song on the David Letterman show.

Many theories existed about why Rather was attacked; one theory even linked the event to the KGB, the CIA, and Soviet television broadcasts. Finally in 1997, the mystery of the "Kenneth" incident appeared to be solved. When the New York Daily News published a photo of William Tager, Rather identified him as his assailant. "There's no doubt in my mind that this is the person," Rather said. Tager is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence for killing NBC stagehand Campbell Montgomery outside the Today show studio in 1994. Tager apparently was convinced that the news media was beaming signals into his head. He demanded that Rather tell him the frequency of the signals. Why he referred to Rather as "Kenneth" remains a mystery although some have speculated that Tager, being Jewish, was actually saying "Goniff, What is the frequency?" (Goniff being Yiddish for a thief or dishonest person).


For one week in September 1986 [2] (http://ratherbiased.com/courage.htm), Rather signed off his broadcasts to CBS with the single word Courage. Apparently it was just a signature line and had nothing to do with the news at the time (which included the Joseph Cicippio abduction and a threat by Arab extremists to "become familiar with your skyscrapers and extend the terror campaign to the United States"). Other newscasters ridiculed and parodied him, and he dropped it. Afterwards, Rather said "And that's part of our world." On his last broadcast, March 9, 2005, he once again signed off with courage, this time linking it to the September 11, 2001 attacks as well as courage shown by fellow journalists.

Dead air

On September 11, 1987, Rather marched off the set of the CBS Evening News when a tennis match threatened to cut into his broadcast. The Graf-McNeil tennis match then ended sooner than expected at 6:32 p.m., but Rather was nowhere to be found. Over 100 affiliates were left scrambling with an embarrassing six minutes of dead air. By the time Rather was found and placed before the camera, most of the audience had already tuned out. Much criticism was hurled in Rather's direction. Walter Cronkite told a reporter, "I would have fired him. There's no excuse for it." Rather issued a written statement later that week that stopped short of apologizing, apparently a large enough gesture to save his job.

AIDS activists

On January 22, 1991, and unknown to Rather until just after the evening newscast began to air, three AIDS activists stormed the CBS newsroom, repeatedly shouting, "fight AIDS, not Arabs...fight AIDS, not Arabs...", just as the opening credits rolled. One of the activists was actually seen on the air. In embarrassment, Rather ordered CBS to "break for a commercial", after which he apologized for the activists' actions (they were later arrested by CBS security).

Car Burglarized

In 1991, his car was broken into. Instead of having the criminal arrested, he gave him a lecture on the choices he had made in life. They later met in Kuwait. The man, who had become an Apache pilot, thanked Rather for giving him the lecture and turning his life around.[3] (http://us.imdb.com/name/nm0711710/bio)


Template:Wikiquote Rather is known for his many off-the-cuff colorful analogies and descriptions while filling the air during live broadcasts. Very similar to those used by baseball announcer Red Barber, these "Ratherisms" are also called "Texanisms" or "Danisms" by some. A few of the more colorful ones from the 2000 Election include: [4] (http://www.famoustexans.com/danrather.htm)

  • "This race is shakier than cafeteria Jello."
  • "He swept through the South like a tornado through a trailer park."
  • "Don't bet the trailer money on it yet."
  • "It's a ding dong battle back and forth."
  • "Look at that. Can't get a cigarette paper between'em."
  • "His chances are slim right now and if he doesn't carry Florida, slim will have left town."
  • "We said earlier in the evening at one point that Governor Bush would probably be as mad as a rained-on rooster."
  • "The polls have been veering and wobbling so much that neither NASA nor the Russian Cosmodrome could track 'em in some cases."
  • "If you're disgusted with us, frankly I don't blame ya."
  • "If? If a frog had pockets, he'd carry a handgun!"
  • "I think you would likelier see a hippopotamus run through this room than see George Bush appoint Ralph Nader to the Cabinet."
  • Referred to California as "the big burrito."

Pop culture figure

Though his popularity and ratings have declined, Rather's apparent affinity for the bizarre has made him into an ironic pop-culture icon. He has been lampooned numerous times by the television shows Saturday Night Live and Family Guy and many films. Samples of Rather's newscasts were used to create "Rocked By Rape", a single by the Evolution Control Committee which was subsequently banned by CBS; the song combined some of Rather's more dramatic headlines ("Gunned down / shooting death / blood drops / murderer") with a heavily edited recording of AC/DC's Back in Black. He also made a cameo in the JibJab political cartoon, Good to Be in D.C..

Newspapers and magazines are fond of compiling his expressions and many people enjoyed tuning in to Rather's broadcasts in the hopes he'd say something amusing.


During Rather's reign, CBS Evening News fell from first place in the ratings to a far distant third behind Peter Jennings of ABC News and Tom Brokaw of NBC News before Brokaw's retirement on December 1, 2004.

Further reading

  • News About The News, ISBN 0375714154. Contemporary history of American journalism. Candid interviews with Rather and many others.

External links

Preceded by:
Walter Cronkite
CBS Evening News anchorman
9 March 1981 - 9 March 2005
Succeeded by:
Bob Schieffer
fr:Dan Rather

ja:ダン・ラザー no:Dan Rather


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