Who Is Dan Rather?
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 instilled 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, 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 at CBS
Following a stint overseas in Vietnam, 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 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.
Resigning From CBS
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.
In September 2007 Rather slapped CBS with a $70 lawsuit, claiming he had become the network's scapegoat to “pacify the White House” amid the controversy over Bush's military record. However, two years later, the case was dismissed by the New York state appeals court.
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. Three years later, Rather launched an independent production company, News & Guts, and became a contributor to the website Mashable. Shortly after, the story of his ouster from CBS Evening News was brought to the big screen in Truth (2015), which starred Robert Redford as the newsman. In the fall of 2016, the journalist launched his Sirius XM one-hour show, Dan Rather’s America.
Dan Rather Books
Rather has written a number of books throughout his journalistic career:
- The Palace Guard, with Gary Gates (1977)
- The Camera Never Blinks: Adventures of a TV Journalist, with Mickey Hershkowitz (1977)
- I Remember, with Peter Wyden (1991)
- The Camera Never Blinks Twice: The Further Adventures of a Television Journalist, with Mickey Hershkowitz (1994).
- Deadlines and Datelines: Essays at the Turn of the Century (1999).
- Rather Outspoken: My Life in the News, with Digby Diehl (2013).
- What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism, with Elliot Kirschner, (2017).
Rather on Trump
Rather has been known to be quite critical of President Donald Trump, which has brought him a new resurgence in the spotlight. Since Trump's ascendancy, Rather has been appearing regularly in the media. In November 2017, he spoke on MSNBC's Morning Joe saying that the Trump Era is "a perilous, dangerous time for the country," but that he believes democracy will be strengthened as a result of it.
In December 2017 Rather also sat down with Conan O'Brien and relaying about the Trump presidency and its attacks on the media: “It is important for us to remember this is not normal.”
He added: “We’ve had presidents who did not like the press, but we’ve never had one that steadily, out of his own mouth, waged such an unrelenting campaign against the press…There is a campaign to convince people, especially young people, this is the way presidencies go. That is not true.”
Rather has also received a great deal of attention through his use of social media when protesting Trump. Among his numerous viral posts, in August 2016 he drew a line in the sand when then-presidential candidate Trump insinuated that Americans with guns could prevent Hillary Clinton from appointing anti-gun judges if she were to become president.
"When he suggested that 'The Second Amendment People' can stop Hillary Clinton he crossed a line with dangerous potential,” Rather wrote on his FB page. "By any objective analysis, this is a new low and unprecedented in the history of American presidential politics. This is no longer about policy, civility, decency or even temperament. This is a direct threat of violence against a political rival. It is not just against the norms of American politics, it raises a serious question of whether it is against the law. If any other citizen had said this about a Presidential candidate, would the Secret Service be investigating?"
When President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey in May 2017, Rather wrote a scathing attack:
"I have seen weeks of far greater darkness, of war, and death, and economic despair. I have seen weeks of more confusion and uncertainty," he wrote. "But I have never seen a week where a president of our nation has behaved with such a cavalier disregard for the norms and institutions of our democracy. And it now seems like the investigation is expanding into Trump's business dealings. The comparisons with Richard Nixon are plentiful these days, but even he did not seem so untethered from our basic governance. And I have never seen so many members of a political party rally around incompetence, intemperance, and inanity."
Awards and Personal Life
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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