- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 25, 2004

“Dan Rather Scrambles to Confirm Story of his Resignation,” read a headline on the parody news site, Scrappleface.com. It’s a sad but fitting epitaph for the career of one of America’s most recognized journalists. On March 9, Mr. Rather will officially step down as anchorman of “The CBS Evening News,” a position he’s held for since 1981, while continuing as an investigative reporter for “60 Minutes.” As many have said, it is the end of an era, yet the story behind Mr. Rather’s resignation goes far beyond Mr. Rather himself.

In many ways, Mr. Rather epitomized the decaying monopoly of the Big Three networks. But before assigning their ever-diminishing relevance to the rise of cable news and the Internet bloggers, it should be remembered that the “new” media would never have come about if there hadn’t been a need for it. Ensconced behind their hallowed desks, the anchormen and their executives have long since fallen victim to the fate of all monopolies in a free-market system. Having been in control of what Americans see every night for decades, Mr. Rather falsely concluded that his standing was beyond reproach. It was the kind of arrogance that allows one to say, as Mr. Rather did immediately following the National Guard memos story, that “if any definitive evidence to the contrary of our story is found, we will report it.” That Mr. Rather could say this with a straight face to millions of Americans who had in fact seen evidence to the contrary revealed just how far he had descended in a profession he helped pioneer. The end came about when the New York Times hilariously summed up Mr. Rather’s defense in a headline that read in part “fake but accurate.” Whether it was a firing or a sincere resignation makes little difference: Mr. Rather’s storied career is over.

If what befell Mr. Rather can be seen as tragic, and it is for one who devoted so much of his life to a hallmark of democracy, then it is a tragedy with a happy ending. American journalism is not worse off with Mr. Rather’s departure, nor is it eternally stained by one of its most infamous scandals. While the argument over bias in the media has never been greater, stories have never undergone a more thorough review from independent sources than they do now. With the Internet and 24-hour cable, Americans are given a chance to see multiple sides on a range of issues, raising the bar that much higher for reporters, editors and executives to produce fair and balanced stories. The irony in all this is that Mr. Rather will be leaving journalism in a better state than when he found it as a CBS News correspondent 43 years ago.

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