Dan Rather Biography
|Daniel Irvin Rather (born October 31, 1931) is an American anchorman at the CBS Evening News and a former White House correspondent. He is the least watched news anchor, of the Big Three behind 1st place Tom Brokaw and 2nd place Peter Jennings.
Daniel Irvin Rather was born in Wharton, Texas. In 1953, he received a bachelor's degree in journalism from Sam Houston State Teachers College. Rather began his career in journalism in 1950 as an Associated Press reporter in Huntsville, Texas. Later, he was a reporter for United Press International (1950-1952), several Texas radio stations, and the Houston Chronicle (1954-1955). In 1959, he entered television as a reporter for KTRK-TV in Houston. Prior to joining CBS News, Rather was news director for KHOU-TV, the CBS affiliate in Houston.
Rather joined CBS News as a correspondent in 1962. Rather—quite by accident, as described in his autobiography—was the first journalist to report that President John F. Kennedy had died of wounds received from an assassin.
His reporting throughout the Kennedy assassination and subsequent events brought him to the attention of CBS News management, which rewarded him with the White House beat in 1964. After serving as a foreign correspondent for CBS News, he drew the assignment as primary anchor for the CBS Weekend News, while serving as White House correspondent during the Richard Nixon presidency.
An assignment as correspondent to the legendary news broadcast 60 Minutes brought him in line to succeed Walter Cronkite as main anchor of the CBS Evening News. He assumed the position upon Cronkite's retirement, his first broadcast taking place on March 9, 1981. From the beginning of his tenure, it was clear that Rather had a significantly different style of reporting the news. As opposed to the avuncular Cronkite, who ended his newscast with "That's the way it is." Dan Rather tentatively ended the show with "That's part of our world tonight." During the 1980s, Rather tried ending his broadcasts with the word "courage" and was roundly ridiculed for it.
Rather's position at CBS was not helped when viewership for the news broadcast he anchored declined precipitously. Rather won the audience back for a time during the early 1980s, but as CBS went through an institutional crisis and ultimate purchase by Larry Tisch, the viewership levels fell.
In 1984, Tisch oversaw the layoffs of thousands of CBS News employees, including numerous correspondents such as David Andelman, Fred Graham, Morton Dean, and Ike Pappas. Fewer videotape crews were dispatched to cover stories, numerous bureaus were shuttered. The Evening News was transformed overnight from a newscast featuring enterprise reports from seasoned CBS News correspondents to one where Rather would read "voice-over" stories to footage shot by other news organizations. The events depicted in the movie Broadcast News are thought to closely parallel those of CBS' downsizing; Rather is thought by many to be the model for the part played by Jack Nicholson, the anchor whose own astronomical salary was deemed sacrosanct as the little people were let go.
For a short time from 1993 to 1995, Rather co-anchored the evening news with Connie Chung. The experiment was cancelled however, and Rather went back to doing the newscast solo.
As of early 2003, the CBS Evening News is in third place in terms of viewership, behind NBC Nightly News and ABC World News Tonight. Rather has not released any details of his retirement plans.
Criticised for Being Old-fashioned
As one of the last people from broadcast news' zenith, Rather is highly regarded within his profession by traditionalist journalists who try to emulate the style of print and radio news. Many of those who have since come into the field dislike Rather's "old-fashioned" views and formal tone. This conflict most recently came to light when he refused to run stories about Chandra Levy, a former intern who went missing for several months before being found dead in a suburban Washington park.
During most of the search for Levy, Rather refused to run any stories about the case and routinely condemned his colleagues for making a big deal about the event.
Shortly thereafter in 2002, the American press began focusing on kidnappings (especially of young white girls like Elizabeth Smart). This time, Rather followed suit in reporting the story. His defenders interpreted the move as an indication that Rather's power for traditionalism within CBS News had declined. His critics argued it was another proof of Rather's liberal bias because one of the prime figures in the Levy case was a Democratic congressman, Gary Condit.
Recipient of Many Awards
Despite the criticism Rather has received, he is, nonetheless, one of the most awarded figures within the journalism community. He has received numerous Emmys, several Peabody awards and several honorary degrees from universities.
Accused of Bias
Always a controversial figure, Rather's personality tended to divide audiences; they either love him or hate him.
Disliked in Nixon White House
During the presidency of Richard Nixon, conservative political figures accused him of being unfair in his coverage. At a Houston, Texas news conference in 1974, Nixon fielded a question from a ABC reporter, but Rather, still CBS's White House correspondent, jumped in: "Thank you, Mr. President. Dan Rather, of CBS News. Mr. President..." The room filled with jeers and applause, prompting Nixon to joke "Are you running for something?" Rather replied "No, sir, Mr. President. Are you?"
CBS apparently considered firing Rather and its news president met with administration official John Ehrlichman to discuss the situation. According to NBC's Tom Brokaw, the network considered hiring him as its White House correspondent to replace Rather. But CBS' plans to do so were scrapped after word was leaked to the press.
Reagan and Bush
In the 1980s, Rather became a hero to many American liberals for his tough, skeptical reporting on the Iran-Contra Affair which led to a famous on-air confrontation he had with then-vice-president George H. W. Bush. The incident is widely believed to have been pivotal in Bush's campaign to win the presidency in the 1988 election. It also marked the beginning of Rather's ratings decline, a slump from which he has never recovered. Bush never forgave him and refused to grant Rather an interview after their initial tangle. His son, George W. Bush has apparently followed suit, and has thus far declined to grant Rather an interview during his presidency.
Soft on Democrats?
Up until the presidency of Bill Clinton, Rather's reputation as a skeptical journalist was unquestioned. That changed during the Clinton years when his critics accused Rather of going easy on the president. During Clinton's impeachment, Rather was a vocal defender of the president and a persistent critic of Kenneth Starr, one of the independent counsels appointed to investigate allegations of corruption within the administration.
Rather's critics gained further ammunition when the CBS anchor was revealed by The Washington Post to have raised money for the Democratic Party of Texas. The incident dogged Rather for weeks and he was asked about it repeatedly by fellow journalists.
Despite his apparent loyalties to Democratic politicians, Rather is disliked by many social democrats for his unabashedly pro-American slant in covering international politics. The anchor admitted to this at a speech in 1999 in which he said "I'm an American reporter. Yes I'm a reporter and I want to be accurate. I want to be fair. But I'm an American. I consider the U.S. government my government. So yes I do?when U.S. pilots in U.S. aircrafts turn off the lights, for me, it's 'we.'"
Rather has been involved in a number of strange incidents over the years, all seemingly random occurrences without connection, except for the anchorman himself.
1968 Democratic convention
During live coverage of the 1968 Democratic National Convention, Rather attempted to interview a delegate who appeared as though he were being forcibly removed by men without identification badges. As Rather approached the delegate to question the apparent strong-arm tactics of the Chicago political machine, he was punched in the stomach by one of the men knocking him to the ground. "He lifted me right off the floor and put me away. I was down, the breath knocked out of me, as the whole group blew on by me... In the CBS control room, they had switched the camera onto me just as I was slugged."
"Kenneth, what is the frequency?"
In October 1986, as Rather was walking along Park Avenue in Manhattan to his apartment, he was accosted and punched from behind by two well-dressed men who demanded to know, "Kenneth, what is the frequency?" As the assailants continued to pummel and kick Rather, they kept repeating the question over and over again. In describing the incident, Rather said, "I got mugged. Who understands these things? I didn't and I don't now. I didn't make a lot of it at the time and I don't now. I wish I knew who did it and why, but I have no idea." The bizarre incident and Rather's account led some even to doubt the veracity of Rather's story. Nevertheless, the story entered popular lore and remained unsolved for some time. The incident inspired a song called "Kenneth, What's The Frequency?" by the band Game Theory in 1987, and in 1994 the band R.E.M. released the much more widely-known song "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" It became the subject of many jokes over the years and slang for a confused or clueless person. Rather actually sang with the band when they performed the song on the David Letterman show.
In November 1986, electronics expert Kenneth B. Schaffer came forward to propose that he might have been the Kenneth in question. Schaffer had amateur satellite equipment at the Harriman Institute on which he could pick up television images from Russia. Rather was among many who came to have a look. In those Cold War days, Schaffer theorized, the CIA or KGB might have gotten nervous about Americans watching Russian TV broadcasts not packaged for export, but mistakenly followed and assaulted Rather instead of Schaffer.
In 1997, the mystery of the "Kenneth" incident appeared to be solved. When the New York Daily News published a photo of William Tager, Rather identified him as his assailant. "There's no doubt in my mind that this is the person," Rather said. Tager is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence for killing NBC stagehand Campbell Montgomery outside the Today show studio in 1994. Tager apparently was convinced that the news media was beaming signals into his head. He demanded that Rather tell him the frequency of the signals. As to why he referred to Rather as "Kenneth" remains a mystery.
For one week in September 1986, Rather signed off his broadcasts with the single word "Courage!" Apparently it was just a signature line and had nothing to do with the news at the time (which included the Joseph Cicippio abduction and a threat by Arab extremists to "become familiar with your skyscrapers and extend the terror campaign to the United States"). Other newscasters ridiculed and parodied him, and he dropped it. These days, Rather says "And that's part of our world."
On September 11, 1987, Rather marched off the set of the CBS Evening News when a tennis match threatened to cut into his broadcast. The Graf-McNeil tennis match ended sooner than expected at 6:32 p.m., but Rather was nowhere to be found. Over 100 affiliates were left scrambling with an embarrassing six minutes of dead air. By the time Rather was found and placed before the camera, most of the audience had already tuned out. Much criticism was hurled in Rather's direction. Walter Cronkite told a reporter, "I would have fired him. There's no excuse for it." Rather issued a written statement later that week that stopped short of apologizing, apparently a large enough gesture to save his job.
Rather is known for his many off-the-cuff colorful analogies and descriptions while filling the air during live broadcasts. These "Ratherisms" are also known as "Texanisms" or "Danisms" by some. A few of the more colorful ones from the 2000 Election include:
"This race is shakier than cafeteria Jello."
"Don't bet the trailer money on it yet."
"It's a ding dong battle back and forth."
"Look at that. Can't get a cigarette paper between'em."
"His chances are slim right now and if he doesn't carry Florida, slim will have left town."
"We said earlier in the evening at one point that Governor Bush would probably be as mad as a rained-on rooster."
"The polls have been veering and wobbling so much that neither NASA nor the Russian Cosmodrome could track 'em in some cases."
"If you're disgusted with us, frankly I don't blame ya."
"I think you would likelier see a hippopotamus run through this room than see George Bush appoint Ralph Nader to the Cabinet."
Referred to California as "the big burrito."
Pop culture figure
Though his popularity and ratings have declined, Rather's apparent affinity for the bizarre has made him into an ironic pop-culture icon. He has been lampooned numerous times by the television shows Saturday Night Live and Family Guy and many films. Besides the R.E.M. song mentioned above, Rather has also been the subject of a cut by the band Evolution Control Committee called "Rocked By Rape", in which lines from disastrous or tragic news reports are edited together to an old AC/DC riff. Juxtaposed with Rather's cheery signoff, the effect is chilling.
Newspapers and magazines are fond of compiling his expressions and many people enjoy tuning in to Rather's broadcasts in the hopes he'll say something amusing.
|Dan Rather Resources