Rather, Dan Irvin
Dan Irvin Rather
American broadcast journalist Dan Rather (born 1931) is the longest-running anchor of a network news program. For most of his nearly 50 year career, he has been with the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), where he has earned the reputation as one of the top figures in American journalism. Since 1981, he has been the anchor of "CBS Evening News" and has been involved with award-winning programs "60 Minutes," "60 Minutes II," and "48 Hours."
For as far back as he could remember, Dan Rather wanted to be a journalist. That single-minded focus took him from his humble beginnings in Texas to great cities all over the world, covering the major events of the latter part of the 20th century to the early part of the new millennium. His career path took him to the top of his profession, into the most important news job of the most respected broadcast journalism organization in the country. His assignments have involved the most crucial events and issues in recent American history (the JFK assassination, the civil rights movements, Vietnam, Watergate, the World Trade Center attacks) and placed him at the hottest spots in the international arena (the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan, Israel, Beijing, Moscow). Interspersed were encounters with the famous and the infamous. He has interviewed every United States president from Dwight D. Eisenhower to Bill Clinton (George W. Bush had not granted an interview with him), and sat down one-on-one with Saddam Hussein and Yasser Arafat. He has been and remains an indefatigable journalist, working simultaneous jobs and often providing marathon coverage of dramatic events such as the 1986 space shuttle tragedy and the horrific disaster of September 11, 2001.
The future news anchor was born Dan Irvin Rather on October 31, 1931 in Wharton, Texas. He grew up with a brother and sister in a tough, working class neighborhood of Houston.
Both his parents liked to read, and they passed their appreciation of the printed word on to their son. His father, who worked as an oil pipeliner, was an avid reader of newspapers, and this especially influenced his son. "I was interested in newspapers because my father, I think, was interested in newspapers," related Rather in a 2001 interview with the Academy of Achievement.
Rather could not remember a time when he didn't want to be a reporter, specifically a newspaper reporter: "… at that time and place being a reporter meant being a newspaper person. Why this is I've never quite known, but as far back as I can remember in the mists of my childhood, when somebody asked me what I wanted to be, I always said, 'I want to be a reporter. I want to work for a newspaper,'" he told the Academy.
To achieve his dream, Rather worked his way through college, enrolling at the Sam Houston State Teachers College at Huntsville, Texas, where he would receive a bachelor's degree in journalism in 1953. He had hoped to fund his higher education by securing a football scholarship, but when that plan failed, he took on various jobs that included a three-year, part-time stint at KSAM, a small radio station in Huntsville (1950-53). This turned out to be the start of his broadcast journalism career. He also edited the college newspaper and worked as a reporter for Associated Press (1950) and United Press International (1950-52). After graduating, he spent a year at the college teaching journalism and served a short stint with the U.S. Marine Corps.
In 1954, after leaving the Marines, he landed a job with the Houston Chronicle newspaper and its radio affiliate KTRH. In 1956, he became the station's news director. In 1959, he entered television news when he became a reporter for KTRK-TV Houston. In 1961, he began his long association with the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) when he became news director at the company's KHOU-TV affiliate. CBS executives were impressed by his coverage of Hurricane Carla and offered him a job as a national news correspondent.
Covered the Kennedy Assassination
In 1961, Rather was appointed head of CBS' southwestern bureau and was responsible for coverage of the South, Southwest, Mexico and Central America. He held the post until CBS promoted him to White House Correspondent in 1964.
Rather earned the promotion because of the work he did in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963, the day that President John F. Kennedy was shot. Rather was the first onthe-scene journalist to break the news that Kennedy had died from his bullet wounds. He had to run five blocks to the local CBS affiliate to report the news by phone to CBS radio. The information was relayed to CBS anchor Walter Cronkite, who was covering the story live on the air. It was a journalistic coup for both CBS and Rather.
The round-the-clock coverage of the tragedy proved to be a milestone in broadcast journalism. It would help turn television news into the dominant information source, and Rather had played a pivotal role in this transition. While covering the assassination, he displayed a professionalism that earned him praise in the industry and a reputation as one of the media's finest journalists. In addition to his effective gathering of information, his calm and soothing demeanor helped steady a distraught nation's jangled nerves. CBS rewarded him with the plum White House assignment.
In the 1960s, Rather was on his way to becoming one of the best-known national broadcast journalists, thanks to his coverage of many of that tumultuous decade's biggest stories. Sometimes he became part of the story. In 1968, he covered the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, a turbulent political event where all conflicts and hostilities of an ideologically divided nation seemed to come to a head. Television coverage was highlighted by street riots. The nation watched live broadcasts of Chicago police savagely attacking unarmed demonstrators. Action inside the convention hall was just as riveting. At one point during the live coverage, Rather was attacked by security personnel as he tried to question a delegate who was being forcibly removed from the convention floor.
During the decade, Rather also served as the chief of the CBS London Bureau (1965-66). He returned to his position as White House correspondent in 1966 and remained there until 1974.
Covered the Nixon White House
Rather became even more famous during the early 1970s as a Washington correspondent for the "CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite," thanks to his unflinching reports about the Richard Nixon presidency and, in particular, the Watergate break-in.
Because of his aggressiveness and effectiveness as a reporter, Rather was not well-liked in the Nixon White house. He was a controversial figure for television viewers, as well. News watchers either loved him or hated him, depending on which side of the political fence they sat. During this period, Rather made news himself thanks to an exchange he had with Nixon during a press conference at a National Association of Broadcasters convention in Houston. When Rather rose to ask a question, colleagues spontaneously reacted by either applauding or booing him. The surprising display caused Nixon to ask him, "Are you running for something?" Rather quickly replied, "No, sir, Mr. President. Are you?" Many saw that as a demonstration of inexcusable arrogance. CBS even considered firing Rather.
Rather remained on board, however, and his star continued to rise. In the mid-1970s he served as the primary anchor for the "CBS Weekend News" and, in 1975, he became correspondent and co-editor of the popular prime time news magazine show "60 Minutes." His investigative style of journalism made him a natural choice for the position, and he helped turn the program into network television's highest-rated show.
In addition, starting in 1977, he began his long-running anchor duties for "Dan Rather Reporting," for the CBS Radio Network.
His best-selling book, The Palace Guard, published in 1974, recounted his years covering the Nixon White House. His next book, The Camera Never Blinks: Adventures of a TV Journalist (1977), also was a best seller.
Succeeded Conkrite as CBS Anchor
For many years, Walter Cronkite served as the main anchor for the highly respected "CBS Evening News." When he retired in 1981, Rather was the natural choice as his replacement. It was no small responsibility. The nightly broadcast was considered the country's most important news show and Cronkite had established a reputation as "the most trusted man in America."
In 1981, Rather relinquished his position with "60 Minutes" to replace Cronkite. He made his debut on March 9, 1981 and has served as anchor and managing editor ever since. The show initially experienced a drop in ratings. But Rather immediately made an impression and established his own style with his field reporting from the war-torn Afghanistan and with the seven-hour live coverage of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's assassination. Rather particularly shined during such marathon live coverages. His work during the five-and-a-half-hour broadcast following the explosion of the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger was especially lauded.
But, for Rather, the 1980s were also marked by controversy and criticism. On September 11, 1987, Rather stalked off the CBS Evening News set to protest the network's decision to cut into the evening news broadcast with its continued coverage of a U.S. Open tennis match. However, the match ended sooner than expected. When the news broadcast began, only two minutes later than expected, Rather couldn't be found. His absence resulted in six minutes of "dead air." The incident was extremely embarrassing and Rather's reputation sustained some serious damage. Most hurtful of all was when Cronkite, a man that Rather greatly respected, told a reporter, "I would have fired him. There's no excuse for it."
In 1988, he was involved in an incident that drew praise from some quarters and criticism in others. During the 1980s, Rather had engaged in some hard-hitting reporting on the Iran-Contra scandal during the Reagan Administration. This led to a famous on-air confrontation in January 1988 with then-Vice President George H. W. Bush. Rather asked Bush some hard questions about contradictory statements he made about his involvement in the scandal. When Bush repeatedly stonewalled, the interview took on a highly volatile tone, with both principals becoming combative. While some praised Rather for only doing his job, others said his approach was disrespectful and inexcusable. Afterward, Bush refused to ever give Rather another interview. His son, George W. Bush, also refused to grant Rather any interviews after he became president in 2000.
In 1988, when Rather became host of another CBS news magazine show, "48 Hours," he became the first network journalist to anchor an evening news broadcast and a primetime news program at the same time.
Chronicled International Events
During the 1990s, Rather cemented his reputation as the hardest working journalist in television news by landing important exclusive interviews and traveling extensively to do field reporting of major news events. In 1990, after Iraq invaded Kuwait, which led to the Persian Gulf war, Rather was the first American journalist to secure an interview with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. In 1994, he traveled to Eastern Europe to report on the rise of neo-fascism in the former Soviet Bloc. Also, he went to the Middle East just before the Palestinians moved into Gaza and the West Bank and got interviews with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The following year, he twice reported from the front line in Bosnia, where American peacekeeping troops were stationed. From Jerusalem, he reported on the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
This decade was not without its own controversies or criticisms, however. In 1993, CBS began an experiment with its "Evening News" broadcast, installing Connie Chung as Rather's co-anchor. Rather was reportedly unhappy with the arrangement. In 1995, CBS discontinued the experiment, and Rather, once again, was the show's only anchor.
In the late 1990s, during President Clinton's second term, critics accused Rather of being biased toward the democratic president, especially during the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal and the investigation by independent counsel Kenneth Starr, who was appointed to investigate alleged corruption in Clinton's administration. Rather defended Clinton and criticized Starr. Critics pointed to Rather's stance as evidence of a liberal bias in the news media.
Rather's coverage of the Lewinsky scandal and the impeachment of President Clinton by the House of Representatives enabled him to score some more journalistic coups. Working as a correspondent for CBS's "60 Minutes II," which premiered in January 1999, Rather conducted an exclusive interview with President Clinton on March 31, 1999, the president's first since the Lewinsky scandal and the impeachment. Two months later, on May 26, 1999, Rather got an exclusive interview with first lady Hillary Clinton.
Into the New Century
In the early part of the 21st century, Rather's workload remained intensive. Not only did he work on three national television news programs ("CBS Evening News," "48 Hours," and "60 Minutes II"), he also wrote a nationally syndicated newspaper column and recorded the radio program, "Dan Rather Reporting."
In addition, he remained a high-profile journalist doing on-the-spot coverage of major news stories. In 2000, he covered the Russian elections in Moscow and reported on the worsening peace process in Israel.
His marathon coverage during the controversial 2000 presidential election was also praised. Anchoring CBS' "Election Night 2000," he remained on the air from 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 7, to 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 8, especially focusing on events transpiring in Florida. During the broadcast, Rather interviewed both candidates, Al Gore and George W. Bush, about the balloting controversies in Florida.
On September 11, 2001, the day of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Rather once again helped steady the nerves of a distraught nation with calming and professional reportage, just as he had 30 years earlier when, as an up-and-coming journalist, he covered the Kennedy assassination. Rather was applauded for his live coverage of the attacks, as well as for his subsequent appearance on the "David Letterman Show," when he delivered an emotional recitation of "America the Beautiful."
Covering the "War on Terrorism" in 2002 and 2003, Rather traveled to Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Israel. In February 2003, as the United States prepared to attack Iraq, Rather secured an exclusive interview with Saddam Hussein.
No Plans to Retire
In 2001, Rather signed a five-year contract with CBS that runs through 2006. As of 2004, he made no mention of retirement beyond that contract.
In all, Rather has written seven books. Other titles include The Camera Never Blinks Twice: Further Adventures of a Television Journalist (1991), I Remember (1991) and Deadlines & Datelines (1999). Most likely he will continue to write when he retires from broadcasting.
Rather lives in New York City with his wife, the former Jean Goebel. They have two grown children, Dawn Robin and Daniel Martin.
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