Just 48 hours before Dan Rather steps down under a cloud as anchor of the CBS newscast he's helmed for 24 years, the guy he squeezed out said Rather should've been replaced years ago.
After nearly a quarter of a century, Walter Cronkite landed the final punch.
While Cronkite has always dismissed the speculation that rising star Rather speeded up his departure from the anchor chair, yesterday afternoon he sure did sound like someone trying to take a few whacks at a guy who had KO'd him.
Appearing on CNN, Cronkite, who anchored the CBS Evening News from 1962 to '81, said CBS News should have given the gig to Bob Schieffer years ago:
"He is, to my mind, the man who, quite frankly, although Dan did a fine job, I would like to have seen him there a long time ago," Cronkite told Wolf Blitzer.
"He would have given the others a real run for their money."
"Better than Dan Rather would have done?" asked Blitzer, appearing barely able to believe his good fortune to get such a quote out of Cronkite.
"Because [Rather] was perennially in third place in the ratings, behind Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings," Blitzer added, cueing up the Cronkite Kidney Punching Machine.
"That's certainly true, and it's quite a tribute to him that . . . CBS held on to him so long under those circumstances," Cronkite said, in a swift uppercut to the jaw that you don't often see landed with such zing by someone his age. "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."
"So you would have been happier if Bob Schieffer would have replaced Dan Rather a while ago?" Blitzer asked Cronkite to repeat, as if he were afraid he'd wake up and discover it was all just a wonderful dream.
"I would have thought so, certainly, if not Bob someone else."
Cronkite's shellacking of Rather, 73, came just days after he bloodied the anchor in the latest issue of the New Yorker, saying Rather always appears to be playing a newsman on the evening newscasts while his counterparts at ABC and NBC appeared to actually be that.