- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 20, 2006

CBS News veteran Dan Rather will leave his post after 44 years on the job, the network announced yesterday.

Calling Mr. Rather a “reporter’s reporter,” Sean McManus, president for news and sports coverage, said: “His legacy cannot be replicated.”

But Mr. Rather’s legacy has turned bitter in the last year, tainted by the network’s recent decision not to renew his contract and the ballyhoo over former NBC morning hostess Katie Couric, who arrives to replace Mr. Rather in September.

The newsman, who turns 75 in October, does not plan to simply fade away like an old soldier. He will, in fact, exit on a strident note.

“My departure before the term of my contract represents CBS’ final acknowledgment, after a protracted struggle, that they had not lived up to their obligation to allow me to do substantive work,” Mr. Rather said yesterday.

“As for their offers of a future with only an office but not assignments, it just isn’t in me to sit around doing nothing,” he added.

Recent press reports indicate Mr. Rather may take up a newscasting role with HDNet, a high-definition cable channel currently available in about 3 million homes. The folksy Texan is one of the last old-school, authority-figure anchormen — and not without notoriety. Still, he downplayed celebrity and rued the state of journalism yesterday.

“Too much is made of anchors and their personalities, their ups and downs,” Mr. Rather said. “The large issues — the role of a free press and of honest, real news in a democracy, the role of technology in supporting a free press, the ‘corporatization’ of news and its effect on news content — all deserve more attention.”

He delivered his final broadcast as prime-time anchorman on March 9, 2005, signing off with the word “courage.” The dramatic exit ended months of controversy after a setback for CBS delivered by Mr. Rather himself.

He suffered public loss of credibility after using forged documents in a “60 Minutes II” broadcast in late 2004 that accused President Bush of compromising his Vietnam-era National Guard duty, aired in the pivotal weeks before the presidential election. In the aftermath, Mr. Rather traded his anchor chair for the role of special correspondent, and CBS ceremoniously fired four news executives after completing a lengthy internal review.

“Dan Rather’s career ended about two years ago, after the National Guard story,” Brent Bozell of the Media Research Center said yesterday. “He made not just a monumental mistake, but a monumental mistake compounded by months of denials. To this day, he claims his innocence in this. And that’s what really undid him.”

Mr. Rather, who broke into journalism in Texas as a reporter for the Associated Press and later United Press International, took over as anchorman from Walter Cronkite in 1981. In 2002, he broadcast excerpts from journalist Daniel Pearl’s videotaped execution by Islamist terrorists, over the objections of the White House and the State Department. He also interviewed Saddam Hussein in 2003, though officials cautioned journalists to be wary of media-savvy terrorists.

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