When the Anchor Drops

By Art Buchwald
Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Goodbye to Dan Rather. He was a good man and served CBS for 44 years with distinction.

Television is a tough business. When it's time to go, you go . And if you don't go the way they want you to, they get very upset. They tell the world you weren't a very good anchorman to start with and you stuttered a lot. Also, you weren't very sincere on the air.

CBS, like other television networks, has a tremendous public relations staff. It's bigger than the news staff. The job of the PR department is to portray the network in a very good light and, when someone's number is up, show how he or she was very bad at reading news copy.

Money is not an issue when television wants to get rid of someone. Rather was getting $7 million a year and could write off the clothes he wore on the air.

This is how it works with anchormen. You are a star. You have your own office, a staff of people working for you, a limousine, an expense account and credit at any restaurant within 20 miles of your office.

Dan was a very private person and was in the same category as Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings. Whenever I met him, I said, "What's new?"

He said, "Watch me tonight. I have a story on George Bush and his time in the National Guard."

It was just one of Rather's many stories about Bush, but it was the only one that couldn't be verified. Later on, when it turned out what Dan reported about the president's National Guard service couldn't be substantiated, everyone jumped on him.

In the TV business, you have to be right 100 percent of the time. If you're not, people will start picking on you.

It was at that moment that the television executives questioned Rather's credentials.

Rather told me bitterly, "CBS and I went to the mat. They wouldn't give me anything to do, although in the news business there's always something to do.

"I wasn't going to sit around and do nothing. I have left CBS with many fond memories -- and many ups and downs. But through it all I've always fought for a free press."

I asked him if Katie Couric could do as good a job.

He said, "CBS thinks she will."

"The question was: Do you think she could?"

Dan said, "In time, I think she will. It took her 15 years to make the 'Today' show a hit. I'm sure it will take her longer than that to beat Charlie Gibson and Brian Williams."

I asked, "Is it accidental that you and Mike Wallace are leaving at the same time?"

Rather said, "We were the great ones. Mike and I will go down in history with Walter Cronkite and Maury Povich."

When I called back to CBS, they said the last they'd seen of Dan Rather, he was flying down outside the 30th-floor window of the CBS building.

2006Tribune Media Services

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