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?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Sport
football
News
Tangerine Dream Edgar Froese
people
News
Rob Lowe
peopleRob Lowe hits out at Obama's snub of Benjamin Netanyahu
News
Davies (let) says: 'Everybody thought we were having an affair. It was never true!'
people'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
News
Staff assemble outside the old City Road offices in London
mediaThe stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century at Britain's youngest paper
Life and Style
The Oliver twins, Philip and Andrew, at work creating the 'Dizzy' arcade-adventure games in 1988
techDocumentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Arts and Entertainment
Krall says: 'My hero player-singer is Elton John I used to listen to him as a child, every single record
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
News
i100
Environment
Number so freshwater mussels in Cumbria have plummeted from up to three million in the 20th century to 500,000
environment
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

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us