- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 1, 2005

This is a column about Roger Mudd, so let’s not beat around the bush. How does he feel now that his old rival Dan Rather is preparing to step down as anchor of the “CBS Evening News” under the darkest of clouds?

“Dan has gone more places and worked harder and done more in that job than any of the other anchors,” Mr. Mudd said from a corner table at one of his regular haunts, a French bistro near his McLean home.

“For whatever reasons in his background, education, upbringing, he’s had this compulsion to prove himself. He spread himself too thin.”

Mr. Mudd was referring, of course, to Mr. Rather’s role in the flawed “60 Minutes Wednesday” report on President Bush’s National Guard service. The Sept. 8 piece was based on memos that weren’t adequately authenticated.

Last month, the independent panel that investigated the flap concluded that Mr. Rather was overworked and contributed little to the memo story.

The investigators also said they uncovered no evidence of political bias at CBS, which Mr. Mudd believes.

Although Mr. Mudd keeps his politics private, his deep devotion to family and faith has led some to suspect that he leans to the right. Regardless, he said there was no liberal tilt at CBS when he worked there from 1961 until 1980.

But enough about Dan Rather. This is a column about Roger Mudd, after all, and he has plenty to say about a profession he helped shape at CBS, when he was the best TV reporter on Capitol Hill.

His biggest gripe: TV reporting on Congress lacks depth. He cited last month’s coverage of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s Senate confirmation hearings as an example.

“Just to run clips of a Q-and-A [between Miss Rice and a senator] doesn’t give any context,” he said.

Then there was the quote CBS Senior Vice President Marcy McGinnis gave The Washington Post last week, defending her network’s dearth of overseas bureaus: “You don’t have to live in Moscow to be able to go cover Moscow.”

Mr. Mudd’s reaction: “What … is she talking about?”

He was equally inflamed when CBS Chairman Leslie Moonves told reporters last month that the concept of a single anchor with the “voice of God” was outdated. Mr. Mudd said the remark “throws into the trash can decades of tradition.”

But Mr. Mudd is no grumpy old man.

At 76, he looks older than most viewers probably remember, but he is as urbane as ever in his turtleneck and sport coat.

Mr. Mudd just began writing his memoirs, and what material he has to choose from: His marathon coverage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 filibuster. The 1979 interview that sunk Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s presidential aspirations. His competition with Mr. Rather to succeed Walter Cronkite. His defection to NBC when Mr. Rather outfoxed him.

“If I had been selected to succeed Cronkite, I don’t think I would have been happy,” Mr. Mudd said.

He knows himself better now, he said, and suspects his aversion to celebrity would have made him an uncomfortable “hood ornament” for the news division. Then he smiles and adds a caveat: “But that’s a guess.”

Call Chris Baker at 202/636-3139 or send e-mail to cbaker@washingtontimes.com.

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