I think that being a news reporter must be, at times, pretty tough. That’s especially true if you’re reporting events on a national scale and involve many of the nations and worlds most public figures. I don’t care if you’re a Republican or Democrat, a Liberal or Conservative, to try and report on some pretty tough issues without interjecting your opinion every now and then is probably damn near impossible. Yeah, maybe sometimes Dan stepped over the line and maybe in a rush to get a story out, some of the so-called facts get blurred, misstated or even omitted but when you stop to consider the sheer volume of stories that Rather reported on during his career, I’d say his track record wasn’t so bad.
Maybe part of that is due to the times were living in. Traditional network news is dieing at the hands of cable and the Internet and their ability to report first and ask questions later. These days, in a world where it seems that the emphasis is more focused on being first than it is being accurate, one might come to think that it’s to be expected and is just the nature of the beast.
I’d be the first to say, that’s a shame and that we all suffer for it…
The Early Years
Dan Rather was born in Wharton, Texas in 1931 during the height of the Great Depression. His mom and dad were working class folks and his father never even graduated high school. It was with that thought in mind that they were determined to make a better life for their son and stressed the importance of education throughout his early life.
After leaving high school, Rather found himself enrolled at someplace called the Sam Houston State Teachers College where he earned his first stripes when he managed to graduate with a bachelors degree in journalism. While he was there, he also played the role of editor for the school newspaper.
A Slow Start
Like most newbies in the field of journalism, Rather got his start in reporting by doing stories on local issues. He did a stint in Huntsville, Texas and soon was heard in and around Houston. From there, he joined the Houston Chronicle and got his first shot at television news in 1959.
Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall
Today, sometimes it seems as if the only thing you see on the news is reporters out in the field chasing down the weather. They’re either huddled against the elements as the wind and the waves lash out at them or they’re assessing the damage done brought on by nature’s fury.
Back in 1961, way before the advent of the Weather Channel and storm chasers, Rather broke new ground when he reported live from a seawall in Galveston, Texas as Hurricane Carla bore down on its shores. This wasn’t your average hurricane either, wind speeds were clocked at over 120 miles per hour and today it would be registered as a category 4 on the Saffir/Simpson Hurricane Damage Potential Scale.
Executives at CBS were impressed by his work in the field and the hired him on as a correspondent later that year.
A Shot In The Dark
I guess there are certain defining moments throughout one’s life when you can remember exactly where you were and what you were doing as certain events transpired. Based on your priorities, it probably differs for all of us. For an old fart like yours truly, it was the 1969 when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon and the so called Miracle Mets later went on to win the World Series. For farts even older than me, it was probably the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
Rather got his first taste of national exposure when he was the first reporter to break the news that Kennedy had died due to wounds he suffered after being shot. He also got his first of controversy when he reported that he had seen the Zapruder film and that Kennedy’s head jerked “violently forward” when instead it went backwards after a small move forward.
The powers that be at CBS took further notice of Rather’s reporting skills and soon assigned him center stage and offered him a position as their White House correspondent. From there he moved on to the position of foreign correspondent and with a pretty full resume behind him, landed him the position of anchorman for the CBS Sunday News.
And That’s The Way It Is
This was the era of Vietnam, Watergate and Richard M. Nixon and Rather and his cronies had what seemed to be mountains of material to choose from. He further made his mark when he debuted as a correspondent for a new show that CBS was looking at called 60 Minutes. This increased his national exposure and when it came time for Walter Cronkite to step down in 1981, Rather was the heir apparent.
Profiles in Courage
I guess following in the footsteps of a legend, the man once was crowned as “the most trusted man in America” must have been hard. Rather had a distinctly different style of reporting than Cronkite but tried to emulate him by coming up with his own sign-off line that would distinguish him from his peers. For the first week or two of his broadcast, his last word to the listening ears of Americans was the word “Courage”.
Needless to say, late night comedians, journalists, and editorial writers throughout the land had a field day with the attempt and it was soon discarded in favor of the words “That’s part of our world tonight”. It was the slogan that he’d use for the next twenty odd years.
I’d Rather Not
As competition in the form of cable news started drawing viewers away from the aging networks, many attempts were made to boost their sagging ratings. One of the most embarrassing came in 1993 when CBS decided to pair up Rather with that bastion of journalistic integrity that went by the name of Connie Chung. Her penchant for reporting fluff and pop stories were becoming the thing of legend and contrasted sharply with Rather’s serious on air demeanor. The experiment lasted all of two years when Chung was let go and Dan found himself flying solo again.
Scandals ranging from manufactured news stories with a liberal bias to outright favoritism further damaged CBS once impeccable reputation and Rather’s credentials were being called into question. Probably sensing the inevitable, Rather decided to call it quits in March of 2005. By that time, CBS News had fallen to a distant last place in the ratings and they’ve now put their money on Katie Couric to right what seems to be a sinking ship.
During the 2000 Presidential elections, and even though they were mired in third place, Dan Rather was still the main man coming through the tube for CBS and into the homes of millions of Americans. As we know, that race was probably the tightest in American history and in a effort to try and describe what was transpiring across the country, certain utterances known as “Ratherisms” assaulted the eyes and ears of the viewing public. While I’m not disputing what dannye said in his earlier write up, here’s just a few of them that I know to be true.
“This race is shakier than cafeteria Jell-O."
"Turn the lights down, the party just got wilder."
"It's cardiac arrest
time in this presidential campaign."
"He swept through the South like a tornado
through a trailer park
"Don't bet the trailer money yet."
"It's too early to say he has the whip hand."
, that race, the heat from it is hot enough to peel house paint
"It's a ding dong battle back and forth."
"If he doesn't carry Florida, Slim will have left town."
"If a frog
had side pockets, he'd carry a hand gun."
"They both have champagne
on ice, but after the night is over, they might need a pick axe to open them."
"This race is tight like a too-small bathing suit
on a too-long ride home from the beach."
"It's about as complicated as a wiring diagram to some dynamo
"Only votes talk — everything else walks."
"This will show you how tight it is — it's spandex
"We're going to go to some of those longnecks from a long time ago."
"He's going to find that people will hang on him like a coat rack."
"This election swings like one of those pendulum
"This race is as tight as the rusted lug nuts on a '55 Ford
"What we know is that there will be no decision until some of those races are decided."
has his back to the wall, shirt tails on fire with this race in Florida."
"You talk about a ding-dong, knock-down, get-up race."
"When it comes to a race like this, I'm a long distance runner and an all-day hunter."
"It's the American way: if you don't vote, you don't get to whine."
"Smelling salts for all Democrats please."
"Maybe you can bring some perspective on this, we're plum out."
"When the going gets weird, anchor men punt."
"Tipper is probably telling her husband to hook a U, go back to the house to get a recount."
"It doesn't matter if you're a Democrat, Republican or a mug wamp, elected officials play it straight."
"Florida is the whole deal, the real deal, a big deal."
"The presidential race still hotter than a Laredo parking lot."
"These returns are running like a squirrel in a cage."
"It was as hot and squalid as a New York elevator in August."
"Bush has run through Dixie like a big wheel through a cotton field
"This will have the people in Austin standing up like they got stuck with hat pins."
"...in Austin, between the 10 gallon hats and the Willie Nelson
"The big burrito
out there in California
"They'll be doing back flips in Nashville."
"It would be Shakespeare
an for Al Gore to lose because of his home state."
"I think you would likelier see a hippopotamus
run through this room than see George Bush appoint Ralph Nader
to the Cabinet."
"None of this television mumbo jumbo
, let's get in there and count the votes."
"Frankly we don't know whether to wind the watch or to bark at the moon."
"We've lived by the crystal ball
, we're eating so much broken glass
. We're in critical condition."