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
Voices
voices
News
general electionThis quiz matches undecided voters with the best party for them
News
science
Life and Style
Emoji are rapidly becoming the language of the internet
techWhy internet acronyms are being driven out by emoji
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
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: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before