Ex-Anchor Adrift After CBS News Cuts His Workload

"It just isn't in me to sit around doing nothing," said the longtime anchor of his lack of recent assignments at CBS. (By Suzanne Plunkett -- Associated Press)
By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Dan Rather accused CBS executives yesterday of not having "lived up to their obligation to allow me to do substantive work there" as the network announced his departure after a 44-year career.

CBS officials heaped praise on the longtime anchor, even as they were ushering him out the door yesterday. Rather, for his part, made clear his frustration with the network for refusing to renew his contract or give him an ample workload at "60 Minutes."

His departure "represents CBS's final acknowledgement, after a protracted struggle," that the network was making inadequate use of him, Rather said in a statement. "As for their offers of a future with only an office but no assignments, it just isn't in me to sit around doing nothing."

CBS News President Sean McManus tried to accentuate the positive, likening Rather's career to those of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite.

"I'm sad this day has come," he said, "but really hope the challenges Dan talked about for him in the future provide the ability to do the great kind of work he wants to do."

Asked why the network is dropping the 74-year-old Rather, McManus said: "We just couldn't come up with an arrangement that had enough work to satisfy both him and CBS. If there had been a scenario that would have provided a workload that made sense for both CBS and Dan, we would have pursued that, but unfortunately that was not the case."

The network says it plans to pay tribute to Rather in a prime-time special this fall and is making a donation to his Texas alma mater, Sam Houston State University. Rather is expected to leave this week, well before the November expiration of his contract.

Rather, who anchored the "CBS Evening News" for 24 years, relinquished the post early last year after apologizing for a 2004 story -- based on documents that could not be authenticated -- that charged President Bush had received favorable treatment from the National Guard three decades ago.

McManus would not address whether the botched Guard story, which prompted the resignations of three senior network executives and the firing of Rather's producer, was a factor in CBS's decision to end Rather's career there. On the advice of company lawyers, McManus never met with Rather.

"It would be silly for me to try to list his enormous accomplishments and the contributions he made to CBS News," McManus said. "As time goes by, people will probably appreciate those more and more. I have nothing but respect and admiration for Dan Rather." CBS chief executive Les Moonves also hailed Rather in a statement for his "singular passion" and "dedication."

The Washington Post reported the decision to drop Rather last week, citing network sources as saying there was no room for him on "60 Minutes," in part because the program must find time for two part-time contributors, incoming anchor Katie Couric and CNN's Anderson Cooper.

"I'm going to miss him, just because he's been part of my life for so long," said Bob Schieffer, who met Rather while covering the Kennedy assassination and served as his interim successor. "I truly believe Dan Rather was a major figure in American journalism in the 20th century. His successes were larger than life, and his mistakes were larger than life."

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