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Auletta: The End of an Era at CBS
Sun Feb 27 2005 10:21:45 ET
For the first time since CBS released an outside panel's report on the controversy surrounding its broadcasts on President Bush's National Guard service, Dan Rather speaks publicly about the report's conclusions in Ken Auletta's "Sign-Off," in the March 7, 2005, issue of The New Yorker.
"To people who have been so loyal and true, I'm not going to give up on them," Rather says, referring to Mary Mapes, who was fired immediately after the release of the critical report, and three others, who were asked to resign by CBS's co-chairman, Leslie Moonves.
"I appeared beforethe panel two times for a total of eleven hours. Both times, I told the panel that if I had to move this afternoon ona big story, one that had the potential of being controversial, I'd be very happy to go on that story with the same people, each and every one." Auletta also reports that Rather was puzzled that the fact that the panel declared that it couldnot prove that political bias motivated CBS's journalists or that the documents were fake did not make headlines.
Rather, who hoped to leave the anchor's chair in 2006, will instead leave next week. He tells Auletta that when he took overas anchor from Walter Cronkite, in 1981, he worried that by just staying in the studio he "would come across as somethingphony," but that now "the one thing I hope, and I believe, is that even my enemies think that I am authentic. In my heart, my marrow, I am a reporter. And one who doesn't play it safe."
One producer who has worked with Rather for thirty years says, "A lot of people know Dan, and nobody knows him." Peter Jennings says, "If I got in trouble anywhere in the world, and I had twenty-five cents, I would call Barbara"-Barbara Walters. "Then I'd call Dan."
Auletta reports that Cronkite told Les Moonves that he had done "a terrific job for us today," the day the report was issued. In fact, Cronkite tells Auletta that Moonves was not critical enough of either Rather or of Andrew Heyward, the president of CBS News. Heyward tells Auletta that as president he is "expected to generate profits and not just prestige," which might have been enough in the past. "And, like it or not-I do like it-has to contend with ratings, marketing, promotion, prime-time schedules, affiliates: the economic business realities of being part of a large media company.
I think I've helped the news division by being a savvy corporate citizen." Heyward hopes to make the post-Rather era less "anchor-centric," with longer, more emotionally open segments from correspondents; Moonves wants "a more entertaining, faster-paced" newscast, according to one associate. Previously, Moonves had also discussed with magazine-show producers the possibility of more celebrity appearances on their shows to bring them in line with those of ABC and NBC. "I don't expect '60 Minutes' to go out and do Jennifer Lopez," Moonves says. "However, there is a place for that on the magazines on occasion. Do we at CBS consider that we're above that?"
Perhaps surprisingly, a number of Rather's CBS colleagues conceded that they do not watch Rather's newscast. Mike Wallace says, "Rather is a superb reporter, and dead honest. But he's not as easy to watch as Jennings or Brokaw." Walter Cronkite says that he often watched Brokaw and that it seemed that viewers felt "that Dan was playing a role of newsman, that he was conscious of this, whereas the other two appeared to be more the third-party reporter."
Don Hewitt, who favors Jennings, puts it this way: "The 'Evening News' is like Miss America, only it's Mr. America. If you're in a three-network race and you come in third, then the public is against you." Rather says that many years of cutbacks at CBS News produced changes that Edward R. Murrow "wouldn't feel good about. And neither do I." Over all, though, he says, "I have tried to speak truth to power." In the end, he adds, "I believe in the dream, the magical mystical kingdom of CBS News. It may exist only in our minds, but that makes it no less real."
The March 7, 2005, issue of The New Yorker goes on sale at newsstands beginning Monday, February 28th.
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