Dan Rather will step down as anchor and managing editor of the “CBS Evening News” next March, on the 24th anniversary of the day he took over the job from Walter Cronkite, Rather announced today.
“I have been lucky and blessed over these years to have what is, to me, the best job in the world and to have it at CBS News. Along the way, I’ve had the honor of working with some of the most talented, dedicated professionals in the world, and I’m appreciative of the opportunity to continue doing so in the years ahead,” Rather said in a statement posted on the network’s website.
The hard-charging Rather has been under fire in recent months for his role in a “60 Minutes Wednesday” story that questioned President Bush’s service in the National Guard, which turned out to be based on allegedly forged documents.
Rather, 73, said he will continue to work for CBS as a correspondent for both editions of “60 Minutes,” Associated Press reported. He said he had agreed with CBS executives last summer that after the Nov. 2 election would be the right time to leave, AP said.
CBS made no mention of a potential successor.
Rather’s NBC rival, Tom Brokaw, is stepping down as “Nightly News” anchor next month and is being replaced by Brian Williams.
“Dan’s dedication to his craft and his remarkable skills as a reporter are legendary,” said CBS News President Andrew Heyward. “He has symbolized the ‘CBS Evening News’ for nearly a quarter century. He’ll continue to apply his talents to everything he does at CBS News.”
A report investigating the “60 Minutes” report on Bush is due out soon from former U.S. Atty. Gen. Richard L. Thornburgh and former Associated Press President and Chief Executive Louis Boccardi.
“I believe that CBS will somehow survive this,” Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, said in September. “But whether there will still be a Dan Rather is something we have yet to find out.”
This month, in what turned out to be his final election night, Rather peppered the broadcast with his patented down-home aphorisms, including: “This race is hotter than a Times Square Rolex.”
“He has been an eyewitness to the most important events for more than 40 years and played a crucial role in keeping the American public informed about those events and their larger significance,” CBS Chairman Leslie Moonves said today.
In the early 1960s, Rather became known for dramatic, marathon coverage of Hurricane Carla from the seawall in Galveston, Texas. He subsequently broke the news about President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, and was one of the first to report about Abraham Zapruder’s film of the shooting.
Promoted to the White House beat in 1964, he stirred GOP anger in 1974, when Nixon taunted him at a news conference.
“Are you running for something?” Nixon asked.
Rather shot back: “No sir, Mr. President. Are you?”
Millions watched him tussle with Chicago police at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. He made headlines by slipping into Afghanistan after the Soviet Union’s 1980 invasion, but also earned the sarcastic moniker “Gunga Dan.”
Rather embarrassed CBS in 1987 when he walked off the set and caused the network to go dark, angered that a tennis match had preempted the start of the news. The year before, he made headlines and engendered a fair amount of joking after a strange incident in which he was beaten by a man who confronted him on Park Avenue and asked: “What’s the frequency, Kenneth?”
Throughout his career, Rather has displayed two qualities that may help him ride out this storm: a devotion to the values embodied by old-style network news — impartiality, sobriety, responsibility to the public trust — and a personal resilience that may seem surprising in someone often accused of having so big an ego.
“With Dan, what you see is what you get,” said Alex Jones, head of the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University. “He has been far more willing to talk about the problems of network news than other anchors. He has been willing to flagellate himself in public. He truly cares.”
Times staff writers Josh Getlin and Elizabeth Jensen and wire services contributed to this story.