- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Dan Rather announced yesterday that he would step down as anchorman of “The CBS Evening News” on March 9, after nearly a quarter-century on the job.

Mr. Rather will continue working full time for “60 Minutes” as an investigative reporter. CBS is preparing the findings of its investigation of Mr. Rather’s report that President Bush compromised his National Guard service three decades ago, which was based on forged documents and broadcast in the weeks before the presidential election.

Critics accused Mr. Rather of trying to manipulate the election, demanded that he resign and that a federal investigation be organized.

CBS aired Mr. Rather’s bombshell on “60 Minutes” on Sept. 8. The story was questioned at once by Internet bloggers, and the controversy soon was taken up by newspapers and other TV networks.

He apologized later that month. Sumner Redstone, president of CBS’ parent company, Viacom, acknowledged that the network “had been damaged by the report” and appointed a two-man panel to review internal decisions that had cleared the way for Mr. Rather’s story.

The findings are expected to be made public after Thanksgiving.

“I have been lucky and blessed over these years to have what is, to me, the best job in the world,” Mr. Rather, 73, said. “I have always said that I’d know when the time was right to step away from the anchor chair.”

He said discussions had been held since summer about when it would be “appropriate” for him to leave.

“I have always been and remain a ‘hard news’ investigative reporter at heart. I now look forward to pouring my heart into that kind of reporting full time,” Mr. Rather said.

NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw earlier announced that he will resign effective Dec. 1.

Mr. Brokaw said yesterday that he and Mr. Rather can “sit like two old fogies every morning in Central Park and talk about the world.”

CNN called the events “the end of an era,” and the Associated Press said, “The triumvirate of Rather, Brokaw and ABC’s Peter Jennings has ruled network news for more than two decades.”

Some Rather critics insisted yesterday that his leaving CBS was not a retirement, but a firing.

“Today’s announcement ratifies that there was a scandal at CBS, but Dan Rather is not really resigning, he’s being reassigned,” said Tim Graham of the Media Research Center. “But all of this should not distract the public from asking what went wrong. This resignation sounds like propaganda from a publicist to me. CBS is trying to get out of a mess, trying to take the scent off the investigation of their own wrongdoing.”

CBS has not said who would succeed Mr. Rather, although correspondents John Roberts and Scott Pelley are thought by network insiders to have an edge.

“Dan’s dedication to his craft and his remarkable skills as a reporter are legendary,” said CBS News President Andrew Heyward. “He has symbolized ‘The CBS Evening News’ for nearly a quarter-century.”

Mr. Rather’s longevity “is a singular achievement in broadcast journalism,” said CBS Chairman Les Moonves, who called the anchorman “an eyewitness to the most important events for more than 40 years.”

Mr. Rather, who broke into journalism in Texas as a reporter for the Associated Press and later worked for United Press International and other news outlets, has worked for CBS for more than 40 years, taking over the anchorman position from Walter Cronkite in 1981.

He has occasionally made news himself. He walked off the set in 1987 after a sports event pre-empted his coverage. In 2002, Mr. Rather broadcast excerpts from journalist Daniel Pearl’s videotaped execution by Islamist terrorists, over the objections of the White House and the State Department.

Both were disappointed by Mr. Rather’s three-hour interview with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003 after journalists were cautioned not to be manipulated by media-savvy terrorists.

The most recent Nielsen ratings numbers put “The CBS Evening News” third among the big three broadcast networks, typically watched by 5.4 percent of U.S. households, or 7.5 million viewers. NBC led with 7.6 percent, and ABC had 6.8 percent.

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