BROOKE GLADSTONE: This week, CBS announced that its evening news anchor, the man who had held that post for an unprecedented 24 years, would be signing off on March 9th. Ladies and gentlemen, Dan Rather is leaving the building. [NEWS THEME MUSIC UP & UNDER]
ANNOUNCER: This is the CBS Evening News with Dan Rather reporting from CBS News Headquarters in New York.
DAN RATHER:Good evening. Danger. War. Killer. Fraud. CIA. Mayhem. Crisis. Horrible. Inflation. Military threat. The flaming debris. Fatal heart attack....
BROOKE GLADSTONE: It would have been tough for anyone to take the mantle from the person once voted Most Trusted Man in America, but though it was hotly contested, Bill Leonard, then head of CBS News, called it for Rather.
BILL LEONARD: I'm delighted to announce that Dan Rather will succeed Walter Cronkite as anchorman and managing editor of the CBS Evening News in early 1981.
DAN RATHER: I seek to be in the Walter Cronkite mold, in the Ed Murrow mold before him. To the best of my abilities, I want to be an honest broker of information.
WALTER CRONKITE: Well, let me-- I'll just add a word to that. I don't think that with Dan taking over the CBS Evening News there's any problem of transition.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But despite Cronkite's reassuring words, there may have been a problem or two. At the time, some thought veteran newsman Roger Mudd was the heir apparent, passed over because he wasn't as pretty as Rather. And though Cronkite denies it, there were rumors that Uncle Walter was being rushed into retirement because Rather threatened to switch networks. In that scenario, reminiscent of the film "All About Eve," Rather plays a rising star who ruthlessly pushes her mentor out of the way. We don't know about that. But the film's famous quip still works. [ALL ABOUT EVE CLIP]
BETTE DAVIS: Fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy night.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: In Dan's case, that night lasted 24 years. He walked off a newscast when it was delayed by a tennis match. He was attacked by a man on Park Avenue who asked: Kenneth, what is the frequency?* He briefly ended his newscasts with the word "Courage," causing waggish competitors like Bryant Gumbel to sign off with "Mazeltov," and "Hot dogs." And if you can't remember those bumps in Rather's road, you have only to cast your mind back to the monumental pothole he drove over last September, that 60 Minutes II- story about the president's dubious National Guard record and those equally dubious memos used to back that story up.
DAN RATHER: Are those documents authentic, as experts consulted by CBS News continue to maintain, or were they forgeries or re-creations? We will keep an open mind, and we will continue to report credible evidence and responsible points of view as we try to answer the questions raised about the authenticity of the documents.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And, a week later...
DAN RATHER: I made a mistake. I didn't dig hard enough, long enough, didn't ask enough of the right questions.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Here was proof positive, or perhaps just the latest in a career-long series of proofs positive, that Dan Rather had a liberal bias. But reporters are people too, and everyone, with the exception of Jim Lehrer, has some kind of bias. They just try not to let it show. Cronkite rarely did. When he pronounced the Vietnam War unwinnable, the Johnson administration gasped. Despite a few suppressed tears when President Kennedy died, Cronkite was always clear-eyed and steady in the tradition of network newsmen he helped to establish. Dan was different. He let it show. He let everything show, as at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. [HUBBUB -- SEVERAL SPEAK AT ONCE]
DAN RATHER: I know you-- but don't push me! Take your hands off of me unless you plan to arrest me!
MAN: Wait a minute, wait a minute! Wait a minute--
DAN RATHER: Walter, as you can see--
WALTER CRONKITE: I don't know what's going on but this - these are security people apparently, around Dan--
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And after the Twin Towers fell on September 11th, 2001.
DAN RATHER: If they could go down to Ground Zero and see the following -- see those firemen--[CHOKED UP WITH EMOTION] Take this, [...?...] will you?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: He was emotional, excitable, occasionally obnoxious. Even when confronting famously combative presidents like Richard Nixon, he just couldn't put a sock in it.
DAN RATHER: Thank you, Mr. President. Dan Rather, with CBS News. [APPLAUSE, CHEERS]
RICHARD NIXON: Are you running for something? [LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE]
DAN RATHER: No, sir, Mr. President, are you? [LAUGHTER]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: He didn't like Nixon. We know that. There was hardly anything about Dan Rather we didn't know, if we watched regularly, and millions did. He was a bit of a loon, especially on election night. Oh, those Ratherisms.
DAN RATHER: You'd have to say this thing is as tight as the rusted lug nuts on a '55 Ford.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: As he explained to David Letterman--
DAN RATHER: I grew up around people who talked this way.
DAVID LETTERMAN: Oh, I see. So all of these are, are -- you just recall them from your experience.
DAN RATHER: Yeah, and during the year, if I hear something that I say to myself -- you know, that's colorful language and I think I could use it election night...
BROOKE GLADSTONE: I never met anyone who talked like that, but I believe him when he says he did. Rather is believable because he is so raw. The first and only extreme anchor in network news. In a time when journalists are suspected of secretly harboring opinions, Rather, consciously or not, goes with full disclosure. In an era when anchors are processed and poured into a mold like Velveeta, Rather is pungent and runny. He hyped and sentimentalized coverage, but I do not agree with the critics who say that Dan Rather in all his discombobulated liberalness compromised the integrity of network news. If anything sinks that once great institution, it won't be lefty-ness or even craziness. It'll be cowardice. Come to think of it, 18 years ago, when Rather intoned "Courage," at the end of his newscasts, maybe he wasn't talking to us. [MUSIC]
BOB GARFIELD: Up next, the vast amounts of money it takes to keep mainstream music terrible, and the terrible music that gets trapped in your brain.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: This is On the Media, from NPR. [MUSIC] * When originally aired, the assailant's question was mistakenly reported as "Kenneth, where is the frequency?"