Born in Texas in 1931, Dan Rather began his journalism career while attending Sam Houston State Teachers College. He worked his way up the ladder at CBS News in the 1960s and '70s, eventually replacing the iconic Walter Cronkite as anchor of CBS Evening News in 1981. Rather also became host of 48 Hours and 60 Minutes II, but his time at CBS ended after airing a controversial report about President George W. Bush in 2004. Afterward, Rather went to work for mogul Mark Cuban's network and founded a production company.
Childhood and Journalistic Beginnings
Daniel Irvin Rather Jr. was born on October 31, 1931, in Wharton, Texas, and grew up in a working-class neighborhood of Houston. His father, Daniel Sr., was an oil pipeliner, and his mother, Veda, worked part time as a waitress and seamstress. Although neither of his parents had been to college — his father never even finished high school — his family installed the value of hard work into Rather and his two younger siblings.
Rather's interest in journalism was sparked partly by his parents' voracious reading habits, and by a bout of rheumatic fever that left him bedridden for much of a three-year period. While incapacitated, he listened to radio broadcasts to pass the time, developing an interest in the reports delivered by war correspondents such as Eric Sevareid and Edward R. Murrow. By the time he was a teenager, Rather had decided to become a newspaper journalist.
After graduating from John H. Reagan High School in 1950, Rather enrolled at Sam Houston State Teachers College in Huntsville, Texas. There, he edited the school's paper, the Houstonian, and worked as a reporter for the Associated Press, United Press International and KSAM Radio. In 1953, he earned his bachelor's degree in journalism.
Early Professional Career
After college, Dan Rather taught journalism and enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps, but was discharged for medical reasons. In 1954, he landed a job with the Houston Chronicle, and he soon settled into a comfort zone with the Chronicle's radio station, KTRH. By 1956, he had worked his way up to the position of news director, and in 1959 he made the leap to television as a reporter for KTRK.
In 1961, Rather was named news director for KHOU, the CBS affiliate in Houston. His coverage of Hurricane Carla that fall caught the attention of network executives, and the following year he was hired as chief of the CBS News Southwest Bureau in Dallas. In 1963 he took over as chief of the Southern Bureau, leaving him in position to become the first journalist to report the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. His demeanor and reporting style throughout the tragedy again garnered attention from network executives, who promoted Rather to White House correspondent in 1964.
Leading News Anchor
Following a stint overseas in Vietnam, Dan Rather returned to the White House beat in 1966. He built up his national profile via coverage of issues such as the civil rights movement and Watergate, and was tapped to anchor the documentary series CBS Reports in 1974. The following year, he added another impressive entry to his resume by joining the newsmagazine 60 Minutes as a correspondent.
Rather eventually won the race to succeed Walter Cronkite as anchor and managing editor of CBS Evening News, and delivered his first broadcast in the role on March 9, 1981. Seeking to distinguish himself from his iconic predecessor, he became known for his folksy "Ratherisms," and for his willingness to jet overseas to cover international events.
His time as the network's top news figure brought his share of controversy. In 1987, he walked off set after CBS delayed a broadcast to cover U.S. Open tennis. The following year, his contentious interview with Vice President George H.W. Bush drew accusations of bias from right-wing proponents.
But Rather also proved a dogged, tireless newsman, earning the title of "hardest working man in broadcast journalism." He was among the founders of the news program 48 Hours in 1988, and beginning in 1999 he anchored 60 Minutes II. Additionally, he hosted the radio program Dan Rather Reporting, and wrote several books.
Rather's efforts often put him ahead of his fellow "Big Three" network anchors, Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings. He scored interviews with Iraq leader Saddam Hussein in 1990 and 2003, and was the first to sit down with President Bill Clinton after the conclusion of impeachment hearings in 1999. Following the September 11 terrorist attacks, Rather was on air for approximately 53 1/2 hours over less than four days.
In early 2004, Rather proved he was still at the top of his game by breaking news of the abuse of inmates at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison. However, his standing as one of television's premier journalists was shaken a few months later, after airing a 60 Minutes II segment that accused President George W. Bush of receiving preferential treatment during his time in the National Guard. The premise was revealed to be based on documents that could not be authenticated, and an independent investigation determined that Rather and his crew had disregarded "fundamental journalistic principles." Rather apologized on air, but the damage was done; he stepped down as anchor of CBS Evening News on March 9, 2005, 24 years to the day after he took over for Cronkite.
Later Career, Awards and Personal Life
Dan Rather continued working for CBS News as a 60 Minutes correspondent, before leaving the network for good in June 2006. The following year, he filed a lawsuit against CBS, its parent company, Viacom, and three chief executives over his departure from CBS Evening News. The case was eventually dismissed in September 2009.
Meanwhile, the veteran newsman remained busy. In November 2006 he debuted the newsmagazine Dan Rather Reports for Mark Cuban's HDNet cable network (later rebranded AXS TV), which aired until 2013. In 2012, he premiered a new show, The Big Interview, and published a memoir, Rather Outspoken: My Life in the News.
In 2015, Rather launched an independent production company, News & Guts, and became a contributor to the website Mashable. Later that year, the story of his ouster from CBS Evening News was brought to the big screen in Truth, which starred Robert Redford as the newsman.
Rather has been honored with numerous Emmy and Peabody Awards for his journalism work, as well as the 2012 Edward R. Murrow Award for Lifetime Achievement. He and his wife, Jean, split their time between their homes in New York City and Austin, Texas. They have two children, daughter Robin and son Danjack.
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