- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 10, 2005

Broadcast’s longest goodbye is over. After almost a quarter-century in the role, CBS anchorman Dan Rather delivered his final evening news report last night — a moment closely anticipated by friend and foe alike.

“Before I say good night this night, I need to say thank you,” Mr. Rather said. “It has been a privilege.”

Mr. Rather chose to end his last newscast with a special update on a survivor of the September 11 attacks, using now rarely aired, disturbing footage from the destruction of the World Trade Center.

The grave newsman gazed steadily into the camera and turned the moment into a personal soliloquy — and dramatic swan song.

“To our soldiers in dangerous places. To those who have endured the tsunami and to all who have suffered natural disasters, and who must find the will to rebuild. To the oppressed and to those whose lot it is to struggle, in financial hardship or in failing health. To my fellow journalists, in places where reporting the truth means risking all,” Mr. Rather said.

“And to each of you: ‘courage,’” he concluded.

Resolute, his job done 24 years to the day after he replaced Walter Cronkite, Mr. Rather bid the nation good night. The last shot showed CBS News employees giving a standing ovation.

In a marked difference from Tom Brokaw’s December exit from NBC, Mr. Rather’s on-camera retirement came at his career’s low point and amid criticism even from some longtime colleagues.

“One can have too much passion. I wish on some occasions I had reined my passion in,” Mr. Rather said on “Dan Rather: A Reporter Remembers,” a one-hour retrospective overflowing with close-ups, old film footage, personal observations and a few regrets. “Too much passion, melded to loving the work, can lead to mistakes.”

One of those mistakes created turmoil at CBS when an election-season “60 Minutes” report on President Bush’s Vietnam-era military service relied on documents that persistent bloggers in Web journals proved to be forgeries.

“We can no longer vouch for the authenticity of the documents purported to show that George W. Bush received preferential treatment during his years in the Texas Air National Guard,” Mr. Rather said 12 days after the report aired. Four persons associated with the report were fired. And in November, Mr. Rather announced he would retire.

The furor was only the latest example of what Mr. Rather had become to conservatives: the top symbol of liberal bias among journalists. The watchdog Web site RatherBiased.com had a “Rather Retirement Countdown” tick off the final minutes and seconds in last night’s broadcast.

“Dan Rather spent his career at CBS spinning the news to further a partisan political agenda,” said Brent Bozell, president of the Virginia-based Media Research Center, a conservative media watchdog group. “He leaves behind a news organization that is a mere shadow of its former self.”

Longtime CBS correspondent Bob Schieffer will replace Mr. Rather temporarily while producers mull format changes to improve ratings, where CBS has been a distant third for some time. But the network is standing by its man and even his rivals paid tribute yesterday.

“We’re respectful of the man and the journalist,” CBS spokeswoman Sandy Genelius said. The network took out a full-page advertisement in the New York Times, saying it “proudly salutes our friend and colleague Dan Rather on 24 years as anchor and managing editor of the CBS Evening News.”

ABC’s “Good Morning America” also paid tribute, with Charles Gibson lauding “a remarkable 24 years in the anchor chair” in a segment that covered Mr. Rather’s half-century in the business.

But in addition to the plaudits, Mr. Rather was criticized by such former CBS colleagues as Mike Wallace and Mr. Cronkite, whose show was perennially the ratings winner.

“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,” Mr. Cronkite said.

Mr. Rather had headline-making confrontations: with a mugger in the “What’s the frequency, Kenneth?” attack and with such past Republican icons as President Nixon and in a contentious squabble with Vice President George Bush over the Iran-Contra affair.

“How would you like it if I judged your career by those seven minutes when you walked off the set in New York?” Mr. Bush asked, referring to Mr. Rather’s leaving the CBS set when the network delayed a broadcast to accommodate U.S. Open tennis coverage.

But Mr. Rather is not disappearing from the airwaves. Though he’s gathered up an old keepsake Royal typewriter and vacated his office at CBS headquarters in Manhattan, the 74-year-old will immediately transition into a “60 Minutes” correspondent.

Mr. Rather’s roots in journalism go back to the 1950s at the Associated Press and United Press International, but he joined CBS News in 1962, defining himself with coverage of civil rights demonstrations, President Kennedy’s assassination, the Vietnam War, the 1968 Democratic Convention and the Watergate scandal.

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