Dan Rather to CBS: Get over it.
Despite the scorched earth he left behind, Rather insists he’s baffled as to why his alma mater of 44 years did not invite him to participate in its 50th anniversary coverage of the Kennedy assassination.
“Was I surprised? Let the record show I paused,” says Rather, 82, who as a young CBS reporter covering JFK’s visit to Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, broke the news that the President was dead. “Yes, I was surprised.”
“I am an optimist…. In my optimism, I thought that maybe, just maybe, what was developing as I left CBS would fade and be past. Looking back on it, they were trying to airbrush me out of their history, like the Kremlin. I didn’t understand it while it was happening…
“I had hoped that whatever animus was there, as time goes by, would fade, and maybe they would change their minds. What’s next – I’m airbrushed out of Watergate coverage? Vietnam? Tiananmen Square? 9/11? Where does this lead?”
In fact, archival footage of Rather will be included in CBS’s special on Saturday, as will some of his previously-aired reminiscences. He will anchor his own retrospective Monday on AXS-TV, where he hosts ‘Dan Rather Reports.’ Also, he’ll appear with NBC’s Tom Brokaw on ‘Today’ Nov. 22.
CBS and Rather are not exactly on speaking terms. Since Memogate in 2004, he’s been a virtual persona non grata. Forced out as anchor after 24 years, he bitterly left the network in 2006 and later filed a $70 million suit. It was dismissed in 2009 by New York State’s highest court.
Though the suit cost him millions of dollars personally, he has no regrets. “It was about trying to save a body of work,” he says. “…There was no line at CBS running from Murrow to Cronkite to Rather. Rather, in effect, never existed…. Anybody in my position would have done what they could to preserve 44 years of work.”
Rather refuses to comment on the ongoing scandal at CBS’s “60 Minutes” involving Lara Logan’s report on Benghazi. She apologized on the air Sunday for having been “misled” by a security contractor who told inconsistent stories about being an eyewitness to the attack.
The similarities to Memogate are undeniable. In Memogate, several CBS staffers, including Rather, lost their jobs. Thus far, no one has been fired over the Benghazi piece, which Logan had spent more than a year researching and reporting.
Back to JFK, Rather is acutely aware that he is one of the few newsman still living who covered the assassination, and it makes him feel more mortal.
“When you start observing something at the 50th-anniversary mark, and you realize you’re 82 years old, you have to think about mortality,” he muses. “I would much rather wear out than rust out. I’m lucky to be working, and I want to keep working as long as I have my health.
“I’ve always taken the view that I want to make old age and death take every trench in hand-to-hand combat.”
Speaking of hand-to-hand combat, despite everything, Rather continues to pledge allegiance to CBS. “Though I’ve had my difficulties with them, I still feel very strongly about the place,” he says. “I spent most of my adult life there.
“In a lot of important ways, I’m still pulling for them.”