May 30th, 2024

Once dominant at CBS News before a bitter departure, Dan Rather makes his first return in 18 years

By David Bauder, The Associated Press on April 28, 2024.

NEW YORK (AP) – Dan Rather returned to the CBS News airwaves for the first time since his bitter exit 18 years ago, appearing in a reflective interview on “CBS Sunday Morning” days before the debut of a Netflix documentary on the 92-year-old newsman’s life.

After 44 years at the network, 24 as anchor of the “CBS Evening News,” Rather left under a cloud following a botched investigation into then-President George W. Bush’s military record. Rather signed off as anchor for the last time on March 9, 2005, and exited the network when his contract ended 15 months later.

With continued enmity between him and since-deposed CBS chief Leslie Moonves, Rather essentially became a nonperson at the news division he dominated for decades.

“Without apology or explanation, I miss CBS,” Rather told correspondent Lee Cowan in the interview that aired Sunday. “I’ve missed it since the day I left.”

Rather escaped official blame for the report that questioned Bush’s Vietnam War-era National Guard service but, as the anchor who introduced it, was identified with it. CBS could not vouch for the authenticity of some documents upon which the report was based, although many people involved in the story still believe it was true.

In the documentary “Rather,” debuting Wednesday on Netflix, Rather said he thought he would survive the incident, but his wife, Jean, told him, “You got into a fight with the president of the United States during his reelection campaign. What did you think was going to happen?”

Rather did not retire after leaving CBS, doing investigative journalism and rock star interviews for HDNet, a digital cable and satellite television network. Over the past few years, he has become known to a new generation as a tart-talking presence on social media.

This past week, he posted on X during former President Trump’s hush money trial: “Is it just me or did today seem sleazy even for Donald Trump?”

“You either get engaged and you get engaged in the new terms … or you’re out of the game,” Rather said in the CBS interview, filmed at his home in Texas. “And I wanted to stay in the game.”

The Netflix documentary traces his career from coverage of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the Vietnam War and Watergate, through his anchor years and beyond. It includes some of the then tightly-wound Rather’s odder incidents, including an assault in New York City by someone saying, “What’s the frequency, Kenneth,” then later appearing onstage with R.E.M. when the group performed its song of the same name.

In both the documentary and in the CBS interview, Rather bypasses his career when talk turned to his legacy.

“In the end, whatever remains of one’s life – family, friends – those are going to be the things for which you’re remembered,” he said.

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David Bauder writes about media for The Associated Press. Follow him at http://twitter.com/dbauder

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