Dan Rather backlash?

(Seth Wenig / AP)
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Last year, when Dan Rather was shown the door by longtime employer CBS, it was seen by many as an unfortunate end to a long and distinguished journalism career. Documents that Rather said proved President Bush had received preferential treatment during his time in the Texas Air National Guard were shown to be bogus. The fallout tarnished Rather’s reputation as a network news anchor but raised his allure as a loose-cannon commentator.

Rather was soon making the rounds of cable news talk shows such as “Real Time With Bill Maher” and “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” and he raised his hipness factor by coming off as a smart loner who mouthed off and got kicked out of class.

But with his recent $70-million lawsuit against CBS, the backlash factor may have kicked in.

The hype

In an article written on the eve of Rather’s last CBS newscast, Sara B. Miller and Alexandra Marks in the Christian Science Monitor wrote, “While some say events of the past half-year will forever mar his credibility, many others say his place in the journalistic history will be as the ultimate reporter.”

Despite once puking on the news anchor, blogger Sally Swift wrote, “Dan Rather has made an enormous contribution to CBS and to the news business in general. In spite of his monumental Memogate mistake, he’s had a long and distinguished career. As much as I wasn’t too fond of him personally, I do hate to see CBS upchuck all over him.”

Robert K. Blechman wrote at, “It is ironic, though not unexpected that, in being pilloried by the CBS brass, Rather has followed the path of the hero (see Joseph Campbell) and now returns to tilt at the corporate windmill.”

The backlash

After Rather filed his lawsuit against CBS, he went on CNN’s “Larry King Live” to explain his reasoning. His appearance angered many.

As The Times’ Tim Rutten wrote, “It’s a somber thing to see the ruined house that Murrow built now reduced to a shabby backdrop for the last act in the ego theater of Dan Rather.”

And the TV critic Mary McNamara picked apart Rather’s appearance on King, saying, “Whether his cause, and case, is just or not, you’d think a man with as many years in front of the camera could do a little better than that.”

The cold, hard facts:

HDNet, where Rather works now, may be forward-thinking, but it’s still not as widely viewed as CBS. The station, which broadcasts only to high-definition TVs, boasted in July of leading all other HD channels with a weekday average of 6.1% of the audience.

The “CBS Evening News” has lost viewers at an alarming rate since Rather left. In May, the show fell to an all-time low viewership.