Dan, We’d Rather You Just Shut Up

Posted: Friday, September 21, 2007 at 12:00 am
By: Doug Lund
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Okay, I admit it from the start..I’ve never been a fan of Dan Rather..even before he decided to bite the CBS hands that fed him with a 70 million dollar lawsuit claiming he was made a “scapegoat” in the news story that led to his departure from the network.
 
I never felt he was the guy to replaceWalter Cronkite in the anchor chair in 1981.
He always seemed too stiff on the air…and too phony in his attempts to overcome it.
Somebody eventually got him to wear sweater vests hoping it would soften his image. It didn’t work. The ratings for the prestigious number 1 network evening newscast went into the tank on his watch and stayed there.
(I used to wear sweater vests on the air too..but it wasn’t to soften my image but an attempt to hide my soft stomach.)Good buddies, Doug &Dan, sweater-free, in 1982No one can argue that Dan Rather was and is an extremely hard worker and would go anywhere and do most anything for a story.
He loved to demonstrate his bravado and report live from the middle of a hurricane. He’d hang onto a lamp post to keep from blowing away. In the meantime, the camera guy, sound man and other members of the technical crew were forced to risk injury and dodge flying debris so the boss could have his moment.
 
Who can forget during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Rather doing his on-air reports from the front lines all decked-out in the headdress and garments of the Mujahadeen..a word he loved to say over and over because, apparently, he knew how to pronounce it correctly.
I guess the viewers thought it was cool for him to be in the thick of it like that but most people in the business saw it as shameless grandstanding and stuck Rather with the nickname “Gunga Dan.”
 
A lot of people felt sorry for Dan during the 1968 Democratic National Convention when he was slugged in the stomach by someone from, according to Dan, Mayor Daly’s political machine. It was all timed perfectly for viewers to witness live.
Some insiders think Rather was provoking the incident for some dramatic face-time and just asking for it.
 
While White House correspondent during the height of Watergate in 1974, Rather had a verbal exchange with President Nixon during a news conference that got him a lot of “atta-boys” from the public..but Rather forgot the basic rule of journalism; reporters should “report” the news not become a part of it.
CBS came close to firing him over the stunt.
 
He was also on the network hot seat after a live confrontational interview with then Vice President, George H.W.Bush who was running for president and later won.
Bush never forgave Rather for his bullying tactics and never granted a one-on-one interview. Neither has George W. Bush since he’s been in office.
There’s nothing wrong with asking tough questions but you’d better ask them of “all” the candidates.
The interview led to more allegations of Rather’s liberal bias..which he has always denied.
 
Rather was, himself, ambushed by a New York City reporter asking questions about the infamous “Kenneth, what’s the frequency?” mugging incident.
Rather wasn’t about to talk to this guy and used an old trick of swearing so they couldn’t air his response. Remember, this was in 1986..before stations would bleep-out bad words.
Anyway, Rather stepped right up to the reporter’s face and said “fudge you.”
Only he didn’t say fudge.Nobody realized then that the entire incident would one day be available for all to see on "YouTube."
 
I was personally caught up in one of Dan Rather’s temper tantrums. It was in 1987 when he angrily walked off the news set because it looked like U.S. Open Tennis coverage was going to cut into his Evening News broadcast.
Instead the match ended early and Rather had to be persuaded to come back to the desk.
Meanwhile, anchors at affiliate stations, like Keloland TV, were stuck trying to fill six minutes of dead air while Dan Rather’s feelings were soothed enough for him to come back on.
 
Walter Cronkite said later that Rather should have been fired right then and there.
 
Even Rather’s closest associates fear that he’s gone over the edge with this lawsuit business.
Once again, they say, he doesn’t seem to have a grip on reality..nor does he realize that, while he may believe he needs to do this to preserve his journalistic reputation, it’s destroying what little integrity he has left.
 
The evidence clearly shows that over the years CBS bent over backwards many, many times to save Rather’s butt…not only for conduct unbecoming..but by keeping him on as anchor when he should have been fired for dragging the CBS Evening News into the ratings cellar and keeping it there.
 
Will he win the suit?
Well, to quote a couple of Dan’s corny “Ratherisms”..don’t bet  the trailer money on it yet..and his chances are shakier than cafeteria Jell-O.

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