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Rather Signs Off as Face of CBS News

Times Staff Writer

Dan Rather ended his long and sometimes-stormy tenure as anchor of “CBS Evening News” on Wednesday with quiet thanks and a personal wish for courage by disaster victims, the oppressed and journalists in peril.

Addressing viewers near the end of the telecast, the 73-year-old newsman, who took over the anchor chair from Walter Cronkite in 1981, said, “We have shared a lot in the 24 years we’ve been meeting here each evening. And before I say good night this night, I need to say thank you.

“Thank you to the thousands of wonderful professionals at CBS News, past and present, with whom it has been my honor to work over these years. And a deeply felt thanks to all of you, who have let us into your homes night after night. It has been a privilege and one never taken lightly.”

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Rather stepped down as anchor of the No. 3-ranked evening newscast six months after the CBS magazine “60 Minutes Wednesday” aired a report suggesting that President Bush received favorable treatment during his Vietnam-era military service.

Rather, who served as correspondent on the story, had been criticized for defending the report after bloggers and other critics questioned the authenticity of documents CBS used.

Rather announced his retirement as anchor in November. Two months ago -- after an investigative panel faulted the network for “myopic zeal” in rushing the Bush story to air -- CBS fired Rather’s longtime producer Mary Mapes and asked three other senior staffers to resign.

Rather, who remains under fire from conservative critics who for years have accused him of political bias, will report for the Wednesday and Sunday editions of “60 Minutes.” The future of “CBS Evening News,” meanwhile, remains unclear. Starting tonight, veteran “Face the Nation” host Bob Schieffer will serve as anchor for an unspecified period.

Although Rather has worn his emotions publicly in the past -- such as during an appearance on the “Late Show with David Letterman” shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks when he wept while reciting a verse from “America the Beautiful” -- he remained composed, even somber, in his closing remarks Wednesday. He alluded to a brief period in the mid-1980s when he was mocked by some for closing his newscasts with the word “courage.”

“I want to return to it now, in a different way,” Rather said. He spoke of “a nation still nursing a broken heart” from the 2001 terrorist attacks, U.S. troops “in dangerous places” and Asian tsunami and other disaster victims “who must find the will to rebuild.”

“To the oppressed and to those whose lot it is to struggle, in financial hardship or in failing health, to my fellow journalists in places where reporting the truth means risking all, and to each of you: Courage.” He then paused a few seconds before signing off and was shown receiving a standing ovation from a throng of staffers in the New York studio.

Rather’s competitors paid tribute to him in their broadcasts Wednesday. NBC’s Brian Williams called Rather “a friend for close to 20 years. Professionally, he is a very tough competitor.”

On ABC’s “World News Tonight,” Peter Jennings said that “more than any other newsman in America, I think, [Dan] has always made news as well as covered it, though that was not necessarily his intention.”

Even his last day was not without controversy. WWTV-WWUP, CBS-affiliated stations in northern Michigan owned by Heritage Broadcasting, offered viewers an online poll asking whether they should air “Dan Rather: A Reporter Remembers,” a one-hour prime-time special broadcast on CBS stations.

But station management said Wednesday that the poll had been “grossly misinterpreted” and that the special would run “in its entirety.”

“It was never our intent to embarrass Mr. Rather or the CBS network,” general manager William E. Kring said in a statement posted on the stations’ website. He did not return a call seeking comment.

CBS spokesman Dana McClintock confirmed that the stations would air the special but said he did not know whether any discussions over the matter had taken place between the network and the station’s managers.


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