Dan Rather refused to be interviewed for ?Lone Star: The Extraordinary Life and Times of Dan Rather,? telling author Alan Weisman that ?there's nothing in this for me.?
Not so. This short, pugnacious and highly entertaining biography thumps many of Rather's enemies, of which there is no shortage.
Weisman, a retired CBS News writer and producer, takes a brief look at Rather's rise from humble Texas stock. Rather grew up sickly but tough in the same Houston-area neighborhood that produced racing legend A.J. Foyt. His struggle with rheumatic fever led to one of his lifelong mottos: ?Never stay down.?
Rather had a wolverine's tenacity from the start and sometimes got more credit than due, as when Walter Cronkite hailed him for first reporting JFK's death from Parkland Hospital when in fact Robert Pierpoint was the man on the scene. Cronkite was not destined to remain a Rather fan.
Cronkite, by Weisman's acerbic telling, is an arrogant blowhard "who still believes that the anchor chair should have been retired with him in 1981." According to Weisman, Cronkite piled on Rather during the ?Memogate? scandal, which in Weisman's reading was a fairly minor error that sparked a gross overreaction.
Weisman spends lots of ink thumping journalistic deities who, in the words of Bill O'Reilly, ?slimed? Rather.
Off to Alcatraz
Former ?60 Minutes? boss Don Hewitt is scorned for calling Rather a ?coward? for not resigning following his disputed report on President George W. Bush's military service.
Weisman also notes that as the ?Memogate? storm began brewing, Andrew Heyward railed that any guilty parties would be ?phoning in from Alcatraz.? This, writes Weisman, ?from the president of the News Division who had approved the story prior to air.?
CBS chief Les Moonves is another target. ?Memogate,? Weisman says, provided Moonves ``with a convenient excuse to do what he wanted to do anyway: go younger.'' Rather was 73 at his departure and, according to Weisman, Moonves wanted more young, smiley faces on the air.
The author doesn't give Rather a free pass, though.
This, after all, is the fellow of ?Kenneth, what is the frequency?? fame who was also known for antic on-air observations such as, ?This race is as hot and tight as a too- small bathing suit on a too-long ride home from the beach.?
No wonder radio wiseguy Don Imus once said, ?I want to be watching when he cracks.?
Rather also stoked his own legend by vanishing for almost six minutes during the start of his Sept. 11, 1987, newscast. Weisman wonders if he ?left the set to make a point to his superiors??that he was upset with the diminishing stature of the news division.
Even Rather's critics may sympathize with poor Dan, who was increasingly enveloped by a rising tide of fluff. That trend included the indignity of being paired as co-anchor with Connie Chung, who was better known for celebrity interviews than news gathering.
That relationship is wonderfully reflected in a Rather quip quoted by Weisman: ?did on several occasions encourage her, not in a patronizing way, that to be really connected to the news you have to read more.?
Weisman's final chapter, titled ?Edward R. Murrow is Dead,? is a whack at an era in which blow-dried news personalities report from their teleprompters. Former foreign correspondent Bert Quint notes that ?there's no reason to believe that the person telling you the foreign story has been within 3,000 miles of where the story happened.?
Next up as CBS News anchor is Katie Couric. Former congressional correspondent Phil Jones tells Weisman that Couric is ?a liberal Democrat who is so in love with Hillary Clinton? that it could pose a problem if Clinton runs for president.
We're left believing that Rather's critics will soon be pining for the good old days when straight-shooting Dan ruled the CBS roost.
?Dave Shiflett (Bloomberg News, August 29, 2006)