Dahler’s Goodbye to ABC News

By Chris Ariens 

After nearly nine years as a correspondent with ABC News, Don Dahler‘s last day is today. Dahler is joining WCBS-TV in New York as a weekend anchor.

In his goodbye note to the staff he singled out World News anchor Charlie Gibson and ABC News President David Westin for helping him along the way. About Gibson: “not only the best anchor I’ve ever seen, but one of the best human beings I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.” And Westin: “He graciously allowed me to leave when I spotted [the WCBS job] and he had nothing comparable to offer.”

Read the letter by clicking continued. And for the cynics out there, pay close attention to the last paragraph.

My friends and colleagues;

This is the message I never wanted to write. When I first came to ABC-News almost nine years ago, I thought I’d reached the pinnacle of my professional journey, intending, naively perhaps, to grow, to learn, to rise, and ultimately, a long way down the road, to finish my career here. But as my four year-old’s favorite ditty says, when the bear got to the top of the mountain, he discovered another. So I’m headed out for the other mountain to see what I can see.

What we so often overlook in the heat of the story, be it a hurricane, a terrorist attack, a school shooting, or just ripping up and reinventing an entire show in the eleventh hour, is just how damn good the people around us really are. I have had the honor, and I truly mean that, the honor, of working with the most incredibly competent producers, support staff, camera crews, directors, engineers and editors in the world. We are so often focused on what we ourselves have to do to make air that we miss the greatness happening next to us. I wish the many critics of our profession could be in the trenches with us when all hell is breaking loose and yet somehow, a beautifully, exhaustively, often painfully crafted piece or newscast or special is formed out of ether and sweat and talent. They would, as am I, be awed.

Then we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and start all over again.

Having been a producer in another life, I have a deep appreciation for the people whose names will never be familiar to the viewers, whose faces never get recognized in the subway or at airports, who take the same risks and who work as long or longer hours but usually get paid much less than the correspondents and anchors. Thank you to those of you who kept me honest, who gave me the information I needed, who got me there, and got me out of there, and had some good laughs on the long plane-ride home. You are the heart and soul and brains of television journalism. What I will miss most about my time here isn’t the big stories, of which there have been many, but the small moments with you.

I struggled with whether to name some names, but there’s always the risk of missing a crucial person and regretting that omission forever, so I’ll issue a broad thanks to all who ever got me on the air and helped me get it straight, and a specific thanks to a few:

One, to our mentor and captain, Charlie Gibson, who is not only the best anchor I’ve ever seen, but one of the best human beings I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. I always tell people when I’m asked about Charlie, he is who you think he is. But his warmth and humility belie an exacting and keen journalist. Do yourselves a favor and pull up the old aircheck or go to the Smithsonian or Newseum and watch his work from the morning of 9/11. That is how it’s done; calmly, carefully, probingly, responsibly, yet with a sincere humanity. Every journalism student in America should view those first few hours. I’ve learned a lot by just watching how Charlie goes about his work, and his life.

Two, to David Sloan, who brought me into the intense, fascinating, sometimes baffling world of news magazines. In the family tree of ABC-News, the magazines are on a mutated branch, having to hew to the integrity and standards of the news division, but doing stories that often have more in common with movies of the week than news of the day. Yet, when the big stories happen, it’s the magazine shows that are called upon to produce the specials. David is unique in being able to balance that dichotomy, and also somehow know what people at nine or ten o’clock at night would prefer to watch if they’re tired of police dramas. He’s also the best boss I ever worked for, treating people like people and understanding that despite our demanding and important profession, our families and lives away from Columbus Ave. ultimately matter more.

And finally, to David Westin, who hired me and give me the most amazing opportunities anyone could ever ask for; traveling the world, reporting on all the great ABC-News programs, covering wars, filling-in on the anchor desk, and fulfilling a life-long dream of being a 20/20 correspondent. He graciously allowed me to leave when I spotted that other mountain and he had nothing comparable to offer. I don’t pretend to understand the hows and whys of every decision made on the fifth floor, but I know this for sure: David Westin is a gentleman who cares deeply for his news division and his people.

For the true believers who still exist here, who think that what we do is not just fill air between entertainment shows, who see this as not only a public service but a Constitutional duty to keep an eye on the powerful, to bring to account the unaccountable, to tell our neighbors not only what they want to hear about their world, but what they need to hear; to you the faithful who bear the accusations of bias and political motivation simply because the truth can be ugly; to you the journalists here who want to get it right, who try to get it right, who mean to get it right, I say this: don’t give up. Don’t become cynical, as so many have. Like a beat cop in an unwelcoming neighborhood, you might not be wanted there, but you’re needed there. And that makes ours one of the highest callings.

See you down the road.