Rather signs off to the sound of score-settling

CBS News executives are bracing themselves for an awkward changing of the guard tomorrow night, when the veteran news anchor Dan Rather, arguably the most experienced newsman in America, makes his last appearance after 24 years in the chair of the network's flagship evening news programme.

The transition will not be smooth - no permanent successor has yet been appointed - nor are recent circumstances allowing him to bow out with much grace. Rather, a veteran of stories dating back to the assassination of John F Kennedy in 1963, is departing as much a villain as a hero.

Critics of Rather, 73, who have long accused him of liberal bias, will cheer to see him go. But for his admirers, there is sadness. His 40-year career at CBS has been clouded by one mistake: a presidential campaign segment aired last September on 60 Minutes Wednesday, a news magazine.

The story, presented by Rather, trumpeted evidence that President Bush received preferential treatment to shirk National Guard duty during the Vietnam era. Documents on which it was based were quickly revealed to be forged. For days, CBS and Rather took a defensive stance but eventually an internal report condemned the segment. Three senior staffers were fired or resigned and Rather's reputation was badly tarnished.

Laced through the atmosphere of regret is the widely accepted truth that CBS News is not what it used to be, especially in the days of Rather's predecessor, Walter Cronkite. For several years now, the CBS Evening News has lagged in third place behind NBC and ABC in the ratings. Its network of foreign bureaux is a shadow of its former self.

The low point for Rather may have come with a profile in The New Yorker magazine last week by the respected media observer Ken Auletta, which included uncharitable remarks from other CBS veterans. Cronkite, 88, said he didn't like to watch Rather and usually chose the competition and Mike Wallace, another old hand on 60 Minutes, tartly described Rather as "uptight" and "occasionally contrived".

The network is doing its best to give Rather a grand send-off. His last appearance will be followed by an hour-long primetime special recalling all the stories that he has reported. Doubtless, it will emphasise what Rather himself is most proud of: that instead of simply presenting world events from the studio he often took the programme on the road, playing reporter as much as presenter.

"Morale is not very good right now," conceded Bob Schieffer, another CBS veteran who will take over from Rather on Thursday, until the bosses have decided what to do with the news show in the longer run. Acknowledging that milk was spilt with the Bush story, Schieffer said: "Our credibility was hurt. But we've got to move on."

For Rather, who remains on the payroll at 60 Minutes, there is no pretending that the Guard fiasco didn't happen. "He's 73 years old," Auletta noted after writing his piece. "He's spent a life in which he's tried to be noble.

"He tried to treat journalism as a public calling and, as he said, speak truth to power. Is that all going to get washed away by the events of 8 September [when the Guard story aired]? Anyone would worry about that and he is."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Life and Style
tech
News
The 67P/CG comet as seen from the Philae lander
scienceThe most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Ian McKellen as Gandalf in The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
film
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Koenig, creator of popular podcast Serial, which is to be broadcast by the BBC
tvReview: The secret to the programme's success is that it allows its audience to play detective
News
Ruby Wax has previously written about her mental health problems in her book Sane New World
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £60,000

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Care Workers Required - The London Borough of Bromley

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This homecare agency is based in Beckenh...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas