Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Say Goodnight, Dan

Not quite a month ago, we predicted that Dan Rather's tenure at CBS was nearing an end. With his career forever stained by the 2004 docu-gate scandal, his dismal performance as anchor of the CBS Evening News, and Katie Couric's $ 15-million-a-year salary to pay, "The Dan" suddenly became expendable. As we noted in May, talks between CBS and Rather had apparently broken off; depending on which version you cared to believe, either the network refused to give their long-time anchorman a new deal, or the money offered was insultingly low--perhaps intended to drive Rather away.

Now, Rather himself is indicating that his days at CBS may be numbered. In an interview with Philadelphia Inquirer TV columnist Gail Shister, Rather admits that he has been ignored by CBS News President Sean McManus, his workload at 60 Minutes has been cut, and there have been no discussions about his future with the program. In other words, stick a fork in Dan; as far as CBS is concerned, he's done. Dan may still hanker to do "great journalism" (as he told Shister), but the network has made it clear that Rather will pursue that dream somewhere else.

Other men (and women) might quit under such humiliating circumstances, but not Rather. He apparently plans to hang in there at CBS News, even maintaining a "faux office" for his post-60 Minutes career. Other retired CBS correspondents have been given office space in the news division complex, including Mike Wallace, who left 60 Minutes under much happier circumstances a few weeks ago. Wallace's sign-off reflected a man who had done much to enhance the network's ratings and bottom line, so he was allowed to keep working until the age of 88, and given a hero's send-off.

Rather, on the other hand, is more remembered for his recent failures than his past successes, and (as we noted previously), "Docu-gate" was not his gravest sin, at least in the eyes of CBS executives. Many of them are more upset by the ratings decline that occured while Rather anchored the Evening News. When he took the helm from Walter Cronkite in 1981, the CBS Evening News was dominant in the ratings; when he stepped down 24 years later, the network's flagship newscast was mired in last place, costing CBS millions in advertising revenue, and even more in prestige. The "House that Murrow Built" became a ratings shanty with Dan in the anchor chair.

With Rather's depature from CBS apparently looming, it would be easy to say that he deserved better, or note the sad end to a 44-year career in network news. But any sympathy for Rather must always be filtered through his agenda-drive approach to journalism. Rather always went the extra mile in bashing conservatives, and his failed Docu-gate Report was nothing less than an attempt to influence a presidential election. In short, Rather's undoing was largely his own handiwork, and CBS's decision to cut him loose is long overdue.

Rather's decision to soldier on to the bitter end may also indicate that other networks aren't exactly chomping at the bit to acquire his services. In 1980, he forced CBS to give him the Evening News job by flirting with ABC. This time around, there apparently isn't another broadcast or cable network to flirt with, so The Dan is still hanging around CBS, trying to find a way to hang on. If he's finding a chilly reception at the network right now, I can only imagine how his co-workers will treat him when his contract expires, and he becomes a correspondent emeritus, without salary or assignment.

What a bummer. And how appropriate.

5 comments:

cynical joe said...

Clearly, Dan is not going to get any kind words from Spook. But no one works anywhere for 44 years without doing some good work too. I can't say I'll miss him, (frankly, I wouldn't miss any newsreader, lefty or righty) but thats not to say he's the worst in his profession, he aint.

Wanderlust said...

cynical joe, Spook's point, IMHO, is that Dan was a whore to his own brand of left-leaning politics and to maintaining his own image. In that respect, one could argue that even a whore does good work, on occasion - that is, if her "work performance" is good enough to cause disbelief to be suspended (i.e., disbelief of her caring for her client - beyond the size of his wallet - one iota) for more than a fleeting moment.

In the best of times, The Dan's performance suggested, for that bittersweet fleeting moment, that he really did care about reporting the news.

For perhaps a moment.

Then, almost always, the reality of The Dan's own agenda and bias returned with a vengeance, shattering any myth of Dan's attachment to reporting only "the news".

And don't forget, Dan was at the forefront of "personalizing" the news to his audience. You know, that warm, fuzzy, emotional thingy that CBS bought into, to "connect" to its audience.

Or, at least its audience at the DNC.

cynical joe said...

I think Dan is being punished by having a political point of view, which I think is a fair criticism, but which News Anchor doesn't? Do you think Brit Hume is less of a whore to his politics? Or is it just that as a member of the 'other team' he deserves less than no praise but actually opprobrium.

P. Froward said...

wanserlust,

I think the Rathers of the world believe their agenda is the news. If the facts don't match their preconceptions, why, that's just what we need pros like them for: To sort of "bring out the truth" in a mess of conflicting information, which only extraordinarily wise and sensitive individuals like them can analyze correctly. This happens on the right, too.


cynical joe,

Nobody can be perfectly objective. There's some selection and interpretation in any case. But you're supposed to make the effort. When all your document experts refuse to authenticate a memo, you don't confidently call it authentic beyond a doubt. You'd expect better than that from anybody, not just a professional journalist.

cynical joe said...

Its one thing to say, 'I don't like that news anchor because he doesn't share my politics', to 'That news anchor is doing a poor job because he doesn't share my politics'. In the first instance, just turn the channel until you see someone delivering the news that you prefer. The second instance is just one more example of making normative value judgements through a political prism thats not appropriate. Yes, I think journalists should make every effort to objectively report news, and not try to create news, and I'd agree that Dan and CBS didn't meet that bar on the GWB document story.