Dan Rather, who has announced his “retirement” next March from the anchor desk he has held for 24 years, is a dinosaur. After the last old news anchor leaves (Peter Jennings will be the final one sitting), Mr. Rather, Tom Brokaw and Mr. Jennings will be fossils. There will not be their like again.
Mr. Rather earned his stripes and paid his dues during a career that has spanned four decades at CBS and as a wire-service reporter before that. He is a man who loves his country. Recall his emotional breakdown on the “Late Show With David Letterman” following September 11, 2001. Mr. Rather said he would go and fight the terrorists if the president asked him. Some thought his performance strange, even grandstanding. I thought he meant it.
While Mr. Rather is 73 and could have been expected to retire soon (his predecessor, Walter Cronkite, was forced out at 65), the controversy over faked National Guard documents purporting to show George W. Bush failed to fulfill his military obligations appeared to give CBS management the excuse it needed to make a change. Mr. Rather, who helped bring down Richard Nixon, was himself brought down by a gross inaccuracy and a stonewalling reminiscent of the president he tormented.
It doesn’t matter who replaces Mr. Rather. Everyone at that level of broadcast journalism has been ideologically vetted. No conservative is allowed to ascend to the top of major news organizations. If you disagree, try naming one.
Despite plummeting ratings and numerous surveys showing many people believe the major networks are biased, even hostile, on things conservatives care about, network executives refuse to acknowledge it and continue presenting the news through the filter of their leftist ideological worldview.
Brent Bozell, president of the Media Research Center and a frequent critic of Mr. Rather, observed: “Mr. Rather’s bias is part of an institutional problem throughout the national ‘news’ media — identified by former longtime CBS News correspondent Bernard Goldberg — which is the arrogant notion that their point of view is always accurate and always relevant to any story in which they choose to inject it.”
More proof that nothing changes at the networks is the appointment of Jonathan Klein as president of CNN. Mr. Klein was CBS News executive vice president. He praised the “60 Minutes” producer, Mary Mapes, who received and vouched for the forged National Guard documents from a well-known Bush-hater. Mr. Klein called Miss Mapes “absolutely peerless… in the profession. She is a crack journalist.”
Mr. Klein also blasted Internet bloggers for exposing the forged documents and CBS’ error in standing behind them. He stereotyped a blogger as “a guy sitting in his living room in his pajamas writing what he thinks.” The bloggers did a better job than CBS news anchors and producers, who sit around in their expensive suits telling us what they think. Mr. Klein carries his biases from CBS to CNN.
The “60 Minutes” curmudgeon, Andy Rooney, has been making a bigger fool of himself lately by calling conservative Christians uneducated and ignorant. When the sports commentator Jimmy “the Greek” Snyder disparaged blacks in 1988, Dan Rather aired video of the remarks, which led to Mr. Snyde being fired by CBS management. That Mr. Rooney holds his job after stereotyping and disparaging Christians sends a message of bias, even bigotry, to a substantial audience CBS has mostly lost and obviously does not care if it wins it back.
CBS’ eye logo is an apt metaphor for what ails the network. “There is none so blind as they that won’t see,” said Jonathan Swift. Note he didn’t say “can’t see,” but “won’t see.”
CBS is not blind, but it deliberately closes its eyes to the institutional bias substantial numbers of Americans can see quite clearly. Unlike the era in which anchors dominated the national news stage, people now have choices. Growing numbers are choosing cable, especially Fox News Channel.
If CBS continues in denial — and it will — its evening news ratings, in third place for several years, will suffer further decline. It didn’t have to be this way for Dan Rather or for the once great CBS. He should have learned from Richard Nixon that cover-up and stonewalling can come back to haunt you.
Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist. and hosts “After Hours” on Fox News Channel Saturdays at 11 p.m. ET.