Wednesday, November 27, 2013

About Those Benefits...

For anyone who was career military, you can easily list those "guaranteed benefits" that were promised from that first visit to the recruiter's office. 

Let's see...on-base healthcare for life, covering the military member and spouse; 

A pension after 20 years of honorable service, pegged at 50% of your base pay, (and)

Lifetime access to the commissary, base exchange and other on-base services. 

So how are those benefits holding up?  Not very well, it would seem.  I retired in time to collect my pension, but various advisory boards and think tanks are recommending major changes to compensation for armed forces members, including an end to 20-year retirement.  One proposal would still encourage service members to retire from the military at some point between 15 and 30 years, but they wouldn't start collecting their pension until age 62. 

Never mind that 20-year retirement has been highly successful, or that the typical service member who leaves at after two decades on active duty is an E-6, who brings home less than $2,000 a month, after taxes and other deductions.  The "experts" believe that a civilian-style retirement plan would somehow be attractive, and--more importantly--reduce costs. 

On the healthcare front, military retirees were pushed into an HMO-style system called TriCare more than a decade ago.  There were problems with access in some locations (many physicians didn't want to comply with the onerous regulations associated with TriCare Prime, the "Cadillac" version of the health plan).  And more recently, the Pentagon has announced plans for increased premiums and co-pays, to deal with rising healthcare costs.  At one time, TriCare was less attractive than many private-sector plans but with millions losing their coverage due to Obamacare, the military retiree plan is looking like a better deal. 

Still, there is cause for concern.  It's not inconceiveable that the military could follow the example of corporate America and simply drop retiree coverage, offering instead an annual payment that could be used to buy a policy from a private insurer or (God forbid) on one of the Obamacare exchanges.  At the very least, TriCare will become more expensive in the years to come, though the situation of military retirees is still far better than the millions of Americans who are losing coverage, thansk to the "Affordable Care Act." 

And sadly, there is one more "guaranteed" benefit that is slowly eroding.  The Pentagon is now looking at closing its stateside commissaries, which offer discounted groceries for active-duty personnel and retirees.  From the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot

"...the Defense Commissary Agency has been asked to develop a plan for shutting down 178 commissaries in the United States. About 70 commissaries serving U.S. military personnel overseas would not be affected.

The measure reportedly was discussed during a planning meeting related to the Pentagon's 2015 budget request, which is due in February.

Even if such a plan were included in the defense budget, it would have to get congressional approval. That would be a high hurdle: Lawmakers are often reluctant to trim military benefits.

More than 100,000 Hampton Roads residents and their families are eligible to shop at the region's five commissaries, where active-duty families and military retirees can buy groceries and household goods tax-free.


Commissary shoppers are required to pay a 5 percent surcharge on all purchases, which goes toward building construction and maintenance. The salaries of commissary workers are paid through a $1.4 billion annual subsidy from the federal government.

Even with the surcharge, most of the name-brand goods sold at the commissaries go for about 30 percent less than at private grocery stores, according to Department of Defense estimates."

The commissary is an important benefit, not only for retirees, but for junior active-duty personnel with families.  If you're an E-4 with a couple of kids--and stationed in a high-cost-of-living area, that 30% savings at the commissary goes a long way towards maintaining the monthly budget.  And lest we forget, at least 5,000 military families are currently receiving food stamps, despite Pentagon efforts to provide supplemental subsistence payments to lower-ranking personnel with large families.  Commissary sales paid for by that program have more than trippled since 2008, reaching almost $100 million last year.  That's a small fraction of the $6 billion in commissary sales in 2012, but it's an important benefit for struggling military families--their food dollars go a lot further at the commissary than at competing civilian stores. 

This proposal has been making the rounds for several months.  During an appearance at Camp Pendleton in August, President Obama took note of the issue, saying that "closing commissaries is not how a great nation should be treating its military and military families."  Yet, the plan to shut down stateside commissaries is still on the table.  No wonder that many commissary patrons put the President's remarks in the same category as his famous line about "keeping your healthcare plan."  By that standard, commissaries at CONUS bases will go the way of the individual health insurance market in the near future.        



Monday, November 25, 2013

After America (Persian Gulf Edition)

Early in Barack Obama's first term, unnamed members of his senior staff said one of the administration's goals was to "manage America's decline" on the world stage.  And on that count, they seem to be succeeding quite well.  U.S. gains in Iraq--won with considerable blood and treasure--are dissipating rapidly; the situation in Afghanistan is going from bad to worse, and our adversaries on the world stage (think: Russia, China, Iran and North Korea) are resurgent, figuring they have nothing to fear from Mr. Obama and his national security team.

And the news only gets worse.  This weekend brought the news of a "deal" between the U.S., its European allies and Iran on Tehran's nuclear program.  Word of the agreement was greeted with suspicion and derision; In an interview with Aaron Klein on WABC radio, Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon noted that his nation was not part of the negotiations, and that Jerusalem would do "whatever is necessary" to keep Iran from going nuclear. 

Mr. Klein is also reporting that Israel is taking additional steps to prepare for a possible military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities.  According to Egyptian intelligence sources, Israeli officers have been inspecting bases in Saudi Arabia, which could be used as staging grounds for the attack.  Needless to say, Israel's use of bases in an Arab country to hit Iran would be unprecedented and normally, Riyadh would quickly dismiss such claims.  But as of Sunday evening, the Saudi government had done nothing to dismiss the report.            

Nor is Mr. Klein the only journalist to report a potential, secret alliance between the Saudis and Israelis.  One week ago, the U.K.  Sunday Times reported that Israel and Saudi Arabia are cooperating on military plans that would allow IAF warplanes to use Saudi airspace for an attack against Iran's nuclear facilities.

ONCE they were sworn enemies. Now Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency is working with Saudi officials on contingency plans for a possible attack on Iran if its nuclear programme is not significantly curbed in a deal that could be signed in Geneva this week.

Both the Israeli and Saudi governments are convinced that the international talks to place limits on Tehran’s military nuclear development amount to appeasement and will do little to slow its development of a nuclear warhead.

As part of the growing co-operation, Riyadh is understood already to have given the go-ahead for Israeli planes to use its airspace in the event of an attack on Iran.

There is also renewed speculation that Saudi Arabia will pursue its own nuclear option.  The Saudi monarchy has been a silent partner in Pakistan's nuclear program for decades, investing billions of dollars with the understanding that Islamabad would deliver nuclear weapons to Riyadh if the need arose.  Pakistani-produced nuclear warheads could be mounted on Saudi intermediate-range missiles in a matter of months, giving the kingdom its own, independent strike capability.  Other Gulf states could pursue their own weapons program, setting the stage for a full-scale nuclear arms race in one of the world's most voliatle regions. 

If the Obama Administration is worried about that scenario, it wasn't apparent on Sunday.  There was the usual blather about the need to verify Iranian compliance and threats of additional sanctions if they don't.  But it was also clear the White House and State Department were very pleased with themselves.  Never mind that Iran essentially got what it wanted and still retains a "break out capability" to develop nuclear weapons, despite negotiated caps on Iranian uranium enrichment capabilities and slowed development of a heavy-water nuclear reactor, which can be used to produce plutonium. 

Some would say that the Iranian nuclear deal lessens the possibility of an Israeli strike, since the agreement has the support of the U.S. and its major allies.  But we would make the counter-argument; facing Iran on its own, Israel has little choice but to mount a military operation.  And apparently, it has some rather surprising allies who are willing to support that effort.   Afterall, the U.S. "negotiated" its way to a nuclear-capable North Korea.  Why will Iran be any different?  Against that backdrop, Israel has no other option.            

The Forgotten Anchor

November marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.  To  a lesser degree, it is also remembered as (perhaps) the finest hour in the history of broadcast television, a moment when the medium reached its full potential, informing and--to some degree--unifying a nation in one of its darkest hours. 

Much has been written about that fateful day in Dallas and the men and women who tried to cover the death of a President.  Some, such as Chet Huntley and Walter Cronkite, were already icons; for others, like Dan Rather, the JFK assassination became a career-changing moment.  As one of the CBS correspondents on the scene, Rather played a pivotal role in the non-stop coverage that unfolded over the next four days.  Within a few months, he was promoted to the White House beat, followed by other high-profile assignments in London, on "60 Minutes," and eventually, appointment as Cronkite's successor.

The long weekend also cemented the reputation of Frank McGee as one of NBC's most talented anchors.  McGee had been recruited a few years earlier from an unlikely location--the network's affilate in Montgomery, Alabama. 

Normally, network news executives preferred to hire new reporters from larger markets, or one of their owned-and-operated stations.  But Montgomery was at the center of the civil rights story, and a number of NBC correspondents and producers had worked with McGee, who was news director and anchor at WSFA-TV.  Impressed with his work, NBC offered him a job in New York, and he quickly became a mainstay on breaking news and political coverage.

When wire service teletypes began chattering with the first bulletins from Dallas, the network news divisions sprang into action.  But in those days before cell phones, the internet, and lightweight cameras, getting on the air took a bit of effort.  Walter Cronkite read CBS's first report off camera, while technicians moved cameras and lights into the newsroom. 

NBC was equally unprepared for breaking news in the middle of the day.  The network didn't have live programming during the 1 o'clock hour (eastern time), giving local stations a chance to air their own programs and providing a lunch break for much of the technical staff.  The network's flagship station, WNBC-TV, was airing a re-run of the John Forsythe sitcom "Bachelor Father" when a news editor ran to the announcer's booth, where Don Pardon was on-duty for the local station and the network.  He informed Pardo that President Kennedy had been shot; the network was interrupting programming and the NBC staff announcer would read a bulletin ripped from the news wires.  At 1:45 pm, Pardo delivered the following update:


Pardo would deliver one more bulletin while NBC assembled its news talent in a small, paneled studio.  Chet Huntley, one-half of the "Huntley-Brinkley" report was joined by Frank McGee and a third journalist, Bill Ryan.  In 1963, Mr. Ryan was best-known as co-anchor of the "Ryan-Pressman Report," New York City's first 30-minute local newscast that aired on WNBC.  He also anchored afternoon newscasts for NBC Radio; in fact, he was preparing the network's 2 pm radio news update when a staffer informed him of the assassination attempt and told him to join Huntley and McGee in the breaking news TV studio.  The anchor trio began reporting the story at 1:53 pm, providing audio coverage over a bumper slide until NBC's cameras were ready, and began transmitting video four minutes later.

Over the next four days, Huntley, McGee and Ryan led much of NBC's coverage.  But their work in the first few hours following the assassination set the tone for what followed.  Despite enormous pressure and limited technology, they offered clear, concise coverage of the day's terrible events.  Watching video of their work, viewers will note the lack of speculation and conjecture that so often clouds today's coverage of breaking news.  The NBC anchors stuck to the facts, as did their colleagues at CBS and ABC.

While a number of journalists excelled on that tragic day, few performed better than Bill Ryan.  Working with little more than wire service copy and phone reports from reporters in Dallas and Washington, Mr. Ryan was unflappable, delivering the grim news with an authority and context that was sometimes missing amid the chaos and horror of the moment.  Interviewed years later about his long broadcasting career (and role in NBC's coverage of the JFK assassination), Don Pardo recalled "a local guy (Ryan)...who was very impressive."  Fortunately, the networks recorded their coverage of that terrible day, and it can be viewed on YouTube, among other sites.       

Indeed, Mr. Ryan and Frank McGee handled much of the anchor duties for NBC; Chet Huntley, the face of the network's news division, seemed a bit flustered on that fateful afternoon, and left the anchor desk before NBC concluded the day's coverage.  He was in better form over the next three days, as NBC tried to gain ground against rival CBS. 

At the time, NBC still led the evening news race, but CBS was widely praised for its coverage on the afternoon of JFK's assassination.  Not only was Walter Cronkite on the air ahead of his rivals, CBS also benefitted from having more resources on the ground; they had multiple reporters covering the presidential visit to Texas and the network's Dallas affiliate (KRLD-TV) was handling the pool feed for the event. 

For whatever reason, NBC elected not to take the feed, while ABC and CBS had access to that coverage.  In fact, it was KRLD news director Eddie Barker who first reported that "something terrible" had happened as Kennedy's motorcade passed through Dealy Plaza.  His comments were heard by Dan Rather, who immediately relayed that information to New York.  By comparison, NBC had only one reporter on the scene--White House correspondent Robert MacNeil--who was working without a camera crew.  Adding insult to injury, when Mr. MacNeil was able to contact the network newsroom in New York, an editor put his call on hold.

Despite those glitches, Bill Ryan did yeoman work for NBC on that afternoon in November, and over the days that followed.  But oddly enough, he never reached the pinnacle of TV news.  After 26 years at NBC, he moved into semi-retirement, working as a newsman at smaller stations along the east coast.  On the 25th anniversary of the assassination, columnist Bob Greene found Mr. Ryan at West Virginia Public Television, serving as a senior reporter/producer, and hosting a weekly public affairs program. 

In one of his few interviews on the assassination, Ryan remembered thinking that he "absolutely could not say the President was dead until he was 100% sure."  He also recalled a lack of "human or emotional reactions" during that first afternoon.  Instead, the NBC reporter was more focused on trying to provide coherent coverage from little more than AP and UPI wire copy, ripped from the teletype and handed to him.  "Did I say this before?  Do I give this information again?"

Mr. Ryan passed away in 1997, at the age of 72.  Sadly, even the journalism world has largely forgotten his sterling, on-air performance under the most trying circumstances.  But there are lessons to be learned from his steady, professional reporting--lessons largely lost in today's scramble to cover breaking news. 

Watch almost any major story that unfolds quickly and you'll see rampant conjecture, almost non-existent sourcing and mistakes aplenty.  Not too many months ago, many reporters were speculating (some would say hoping) that the individuals responsible for the Boston Marthon bombing were right-wing extremists.  We all know how that turned out. 

That's not to say that errors weren't made on November 22, 1963.  But on the day when some say television came of age, there was remarkable work by many of the anchors who delivered the devastating news.  One of those individuals was Bill Ryan.  And he deserves praise for a job exceptionally well done, even if it comes 50 years late.

ADDENDUM: One of Mr. Ryan's daughters, Kate, followed him into journalism and works as a reporter for WTOP radio in Washington, D.C.  She offered some thoughts on her father's work in a recent post on the station's website.


Monday, November 11, 2013

The Greatest Day in History, Redux

...from this blog on Veteran's Day 2008: George Smiley's post on the 90th anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I, the "war to end all wars."  As we noted on that occasion, popular history suggests the conflict ended with a whimper rather than a bang, as shell-shocked survivors emerged from the trenches as the guns fell silent on the 11th hour, of the 11th day of the 11th month. 

But history is often wrong, and that long has been the case in regard to how World War I came to a close.  Fact is, many Allied generals were opposed to the cease fire and ordered more attacks in the closing hours of the conflicts, hoping to regain more territory from the fading central powers.  From Joseph Perisco's Eleventh Month, Eleventh Day, Eleventh Hour: Armistice Day 1918, which was published in 2005:

With the enemy in retreat, French, U.S. and British generals were anxious to press their advantage, even if an armistice was in the offing. That possibility first surfaced on the evening of 7 November, when a German delegation requested terms from Marshal Foch, the Allied Supreme Commander. "I have no proposals to make," Foch told the Germans, informing them that the war would continue while he obtained the consent of allied governments.

"...the senior American commander, General John J. Pershing, considered an armistice "equally repugnant." There can be "no conclusion until Germany is brought to her knees," he said. Conciliation, he claimed, would only lead to future war. Pershing wanted Germany's unconditional surrender.

So, the fighting dragged on, even when it became clear that the armistice would go into effect. The Germans didn't sign the agreement until the morning of the 11th, but radio traffic between various allied headquarters anticipated the war's end. However, few commanders issued orders aimed at limiting combat during the conflict's final hours.

So, the advance continued, with little regard for the cost. The British, still stung by their retreat from Mons, Belgium in the first year of the year, moved to recapture the city as the armistice approached. The commander of a French regiment issued two orders, for an attack to begin at 9 a.m., and to cease-fire at 11 a.m. Canadian troops also launched new assaults as the cease-fire loomed.

But it was the AEF, still a relative newcomer to the war, that launched some of the heaviest attacks in the final hours of the war. One of Pershing's Corps Commanders, Major General Charles Sumerall, ordered his Marines to cross the Meuse River under heavy fire. Hundreds were killed or wounded.

In another sector, an American division commander pressed his attack because the "unit lacked proper bathing facilities," putting (in Perisco's words) "cleanliness above survival." An artillery battery commander named Harry Truman put down one last barrage in the war's closing hours, giving his men a chance to test the "extended range" shells they had just received. In a letter to his wife, Truman expressed a desire to "scalp" a few Germans.

By various estimates, at least 300 American troops died between midnight and 11 a.m. on 11 November. But those numbers are suspect; they do not include casualties among U.S. units attached to British and French units. The actual total is believed to be much higher. Pershing's own, official report indicates that the last American died in battle at 10:59 a.m., only one minute before the armistice went into effect.

All told, as many as 10,000 soldiers were killed or wounded on the western front during the final, desperate hours before the cease-fire took hold.  It was a microcosm of the entire conflict; thousands of lives squandered for no real purpose.  In some cases, the gains on that last morning of the war were measuured in a few yards, as they had been for the previous four years.  Troops in other sectors advanced several kilometers, but to no avail.  The final boundaries would be set at Versailles by the assembled diplomats and politicians, with little regard for territory gained or lost on the morning of November 11, 1918. 

To their credit, a few commanders on the western front knew the armistice was coming and ignored orders to advance.  But they were a distinct minority on that final morning of the Great War.  Too many officers were willing to send their troops--and themselves--into no-man's land for one last time, with no regard for what might be gained (or lost) in a final, futile charge.   


Saturday, November 09, 2013

The Next Disaster

UPDATE/10 Nov/ 

The terms "backbone" and "France" are rarely mentioned in the same sentence, but today marks an exception to that general rule.  According to various media accounts, the proposed nuclear deal between Iran, the United States and the EU powers fell apart when France objected to its generous terms.

Think about that for a moment.  The socialist government of France is worried that the U.S. and its allies are going too easy on the mullahs and their nuclear program, while everyone else couldn't wait to sign on the dotted line.  Call it a minor miracle.  Call it a triumph of common sense. 

Vive la France. 

Incidentally, the nuclear talks are set to resume later this month, giving Secretary of State John Kerry a little time to "work" on his French counterparts.  This "very bad deal" isn't dead yet.


It's scary to contemplate, but there may come a moment--in a matter of just weeks or months--when we'll look back on the failed Obamacare roll-out with a tinge of nostalgia. 

You see, there is another debacle looming on the horizon, in the foreign policy arena.  It's a catastrophe that will make a fatally-flawed health care plan look like a minor policy blunder.  Borrowing a phrase from former President George H.W. Bush, what you "don't know about domestic policy" loses elections; what you don't know about foreign policy gets people killed.  And a lot of people may die in the Middle East in relatively short order.

The door to disaster is being opened by an apparent deal between Washington and Tehran on the Iranian nuclear program.  Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Geneva today to join the talks, amid word that an agreement is near.  While details have yet to be announced, sources suggest that Iran will be allowed to keep its nuclear efforts, while giving up virtually nothing in return.  At National Review, Elliott Abrams explains just how bad the proposed deal would be:

Iran gets billions of dollars in financial relief — the amount is unclear but relief from gold-trading sanctions alone is worth billions — and starts the process of reversing the sanctions momentum. Henceforth there will be fewer international sanctions, not more. In exchange, does it pull back from its nuclear-weapons program? From what we know now, it does not. Not one centrifuge is taken apart, as Netanyahu noted: There are 18,000 today, and 18,000 under this deal. Natanz and other sites remain intact. Not one ounce of enriched uranium is shipped overseas. Apparently Iran won’t enrich beyond 3.5 percent under this deal, but can build up limitless stocks of low-enriched uranium.

Abandoned here is the test of whether Iran needs any of this for a genuinely peaceful program; abandoned are the unanimous U.N. Security Council and IAEA Board resolutions that called for zero enrichment; abandoned is the test of whether Iran is truly further from a bomb.


The Obama administration entered these negotiations from a position of strength; Iran needs sanctions reflief badly.  But it acted as if we were the weak party, desperately seeking a deal, any dea.  The wily Iranian negotiators smelled this instantly and struck.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was even more blunt, calling it "a very bad deal."  He also noted that Israel is not bound by any agreement between the U.S. and Iran, and remains ready to defend its interests.

In an interview with NBC News, Mr. Obama said the current talks were not aimed at sanctions relief.  But Eli Lake at The Daily Beast discovered that the U.S. began easing financial restrictions on Iran several months ago. 

Bottom line: Iran's path to the nuclear club just got a lot easier, and the Middle East is quickly plunging into chaos.  An Israeli strike against Iranian nuclear facilities is now inevitable, and could lead to a wider, regional conflict. 

There is also the spectre of a nuclear arms race in the Persian Gulf, involving some of Tehran's neighbors.  The BBC reported   earlier this week that Saudi Arabia has already "ordered" nuclear weapons from Pakistan and could take delivery shortly after Iran joins the nuclear club.  The Saudis have been silent partners in Islamabad's nuclear program for years, with the understanding that the Paks would provide nuclear arms (and expertise) if Riyadh deems it necessary.  Other Gulf states--including the United Arab Emirates and Qatar--might embark on similar efforts, to protect their own interests.

What about the U.S. nuclear umbrella?  At this point, American credibility in the region is at a low ebb and many leaders have no faith in U.S. promises to defend them.  That's why a senior Saudi official paid a highly-publicized visit to Moscow earlier this year and there have been recent overtures from the Egyptian military to their Russian counterparts, five decades after Anwar Sadat severed ties with the Soviet Union.  No wonder Vladimir Putin is so anxious to conclude a nuclear deal with Iran; not only does his ally get a clear path to a nuclear capability, his own influence (and that of Russia) will grow significantly, as various Arab states look to Moscow for military hardware and security guarantees.

Why is the U.S. so intent on signing on to a very bad deal?  Part of the answer can be found in Barack Obama's almost limitless faith in negotiations; if you can reach a deal (he apparently believes), you can somehow persuade the other side to live up to the agreement, no matter what their track record. 

Consider the nuclear accord between the United States and North Korea, reached during the tenure of President George W. Bush.  The agreement was supposed to curb Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions; instead, it allowed North Korea to covertly pursue a nuclear weapons capability while receiving energy aid and other forms of assistance for supposedly "complying" with the deal.  There is no evidence that Iran will be any more compliant with any agreement it might reach with the U.S. and its allies.

Yet, the White House and the State Department are plunging blindly ahead, in part to satisfy the egos of the commander-in-chief and his secretary of state.  Mr. Obama has long viewed himself as a transformational figure on the world stage, an image that was reinforced by his receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize early in his first term.  Never mind that President Obama had done nothing to actually earn the award; when read your press clippings long enough, you will finally start believing in your "powers."  Besides, with the president's popularity in decline (thanks to Obamacare), a diplomatic breakthrough with Iran can certainly change the conversation.

Likewise, Secretary of State John Kerry is also in search of a legacy.  Having failed to generate an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, Mr. Kerry now has his sights on Iran, with no regard for the wider consequences.  Perhaps he thinks the inevitable war, the regional nuclear arms race and the other, inevitable reprecussions can be delayed until 2017--or until Mr. Kerry retires to write his memoirs.

Worse yet, you can make a case that President Obama and John Kerry really don't care.  Along with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, they have presided over an administration that has been openly hostile to Israel, to the point of openly complaining about having to deal with Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Against that backdrop, is it any wonder that President Obama and our Secretary of State are rushing headlong into the worst diplomatic deal since Munich?  One recalls Winston Churchill's famous reaction to that agreement, noting that England and France had a choice between dishonour and war; you "chose dishonour and you shall have war."

Then again, the current administration doesn't have much use for Mr. Churchill, either.  As you'll recall, one of Mr. Obama's first "decorating" acts at the White House was to remove the bust of the late Prime Minister, which was unceremoniously returned to the British Embassy in 2009.         

Mr. Churchill knew a few things about fixing disasters.  We can only hope Mr. Obama's successor has similar skills.                      

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Missing Man

When CBS presents its special on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, one key figure will be conspiciously absent. 

And we're not referring to Walter Cronkite (or any of the journalists) who have moved on to that big newsroom in the sky.  Instead, we refer to Dan Rather, the disgraced former anchor of the CBS Evening News who played a key role in the network's coverage of that fateful day.  You won't see Mr. Rather on CBS on November 22nd; instead he will participate in NBC's coverage, led by Tom Brokaw. 

On November 22, 1963, Rather was still a relative newcomer at CBS.  He was the network's correspondent based in New Orleans, covering the southern United States, along with central and South America.  Rather was posted there after a six-month initiation in New York (where his work was undistinguished, at best), and a brief stint in the Dallas bureau.  He was one of several correspondents assigned to Kennedy's visit to Dallas, along with the late Lew Wood and Robert Pierpoint. 

When shots rang out in Dealy Plaza, Rather hustled to Parkland Hospital, where the President and Texas Governor John Conolly were taken for treatment.  As doctors battled to save Kennedy's life, Rather tried to gather updates from hospital staffers. 

At one point, Rather was speaking simultaneously with producers at CBS Radio News in New York and a Catholic priest at the hospital.  The cleric informed Rather that the president had died, a snippet that was overheard by producers on the phone.  Asked if Kennedy was dead, Rather answered affirmatively, not realizing what would happen next.  Moments later, veteran CBS radio anchor Alan Jackson intoned "The President of the United States is dead," and began reporting details of Kennedy's demise, citing Rather as a source.  The CBS radio bulletin aired almost 15 minutes before Walter Cronkite and the TV team confirmed Kennedy's death.  In his autobiography, Rather described that interval as the longest of his life. 

It proved to be a career-making turn.  He was promoted to the White House beat (for the first time) in 1964; reporting stints in London and Vietnam followed, putting Rather on the trajectory that eventually led to "60 Minutes" and eventually replacing Cronkite on the Evening News. 

Of course, Rather's 44-year career at CBS ended in ignomy, amid the scandal of "Docugate."  After being forced out at the network, Rather sued CBS for breach of contract, a case that was eventually tossed out.  Giving your employer a colossal black eye--then taking them to court--won't win you many friends in the executive suite.  So that's why "The Dan" (to use Bernie Goldberg's favored term) will appear in NBC's assassination coverage, and not on CBS. 

But the snub of Dan Rather goes deeper than his scandalous departure from CBS and his subsequent legal action against the network.  In his recent Cronkite biography, historian Douglas Brinkley reports that the legendary anchorman made a point to visit CBS Chairman Les Moonves on the morning after Rather's departure was announced.  Cronkite assured Moonves that he "did the right thing," and Brinkley's book reveals a long-simmering feud between Rather and his predecessor. 

Not only did "Uncle Walter" have issues with some of Dan's on-air antics (remember the "courage" sign-off?), it's also clear that he was a bit peeved at being forced from the anchor chair back in 1981.  At the time, CBS had a "mandatory" retirement age of 65, but the rule was not always enforced, and eventually scrapped altogether (Mike Wallace remained a correspondent for "60 Minutes" well into his 80s).  The real reason CBS pushed Cronkite into retirement was to retain the services of one Dan Rather.  With their rising "star" threatening to bolt to ABC or NBC, the so-called Tiffany Network felt it had no other option than "retiring" Cronkite and giving his job to Rather. 

As Goldberg (and others) have documented, Rather ran the CBS news division with a degree of cunning and ruthlessness that would have made Cardinal Richelieu turn green with envy.  Rather relentlessly played favorites, and exiled correspondents and producers who crossed him.  Ed Rabel left the network for NBC after running afoul of the anchor, and Bernie Goldberg was similarly shunned after his famous 1996 critique of network news, in the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal.

So when Rather's career hit the rocks, virtually no one at CBS rushed to his rescue.  And his circle of supporters shrank again when he filed that ill-fated lawsuit.  Put another way, Dan Rather didn't burn his bridges at CBS, he absolutely nuked them.  That's why he will spend November 22 in the company of Tom Brokaw, and not with his former network.