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.