Dan Rather: Raising a ruckus in a good way from Texas to TV, and now the Twitterverse

You may not have heard much about Dan Rather lately. I don’t remember seeing him on TV except as a guest on NBC News, but he has been busy writing a new book called What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism. (See #WhatUnitesUs.)

Despite your thoughts on Rather and his TV news career of more than a half-century — notice I didn’t use the word “after” — I think we can all agree we need more patriots, and especially right about now.

Rather is also urging Americans to buy his book at small independent bookstores as opposed to alternatives such as chains, which have enough trouble of their own, and online book sites. (See #IndieBookstoreChallenge.)

Leave it to Rather have an opinion on not just whether to buy the book, but where to buy it, including for those of you reading this in Bozeman, Mont.

Nov. 21, 11:15pm

No! That was not Rather making fun of his age!

Pushing 90 (next Halloween) and having spent his life reporting the world, Rather is Texas through and through, born, growing up and editing the Sam Houston State Teachers College newspaper — all around the Houston area.

And these days, he’s a force to be reckoned with on Twitter. He has 1,700,000 followers. Further, since people tend to follow accounts they like — not those they feel indifferent towards nor especially hate — Rather’s reputation is in first place!

from official White House photo

The Twitter accounts with the most followers certainly change over time. I researched and found this year, former President Barack Obama’s account wins, hands down. More than 125.9 million accounts follow him, with Justin Bieber coming in second with 113.1 million. Who’s in 50th place? Rapper Lil Wayne with 35 million followers. I wonder how much Wayne and Rather’s 1.7 million followers overlap. How many do you have?

And perhaps most importantly, besides the number of followers is the amount of engagement. People go onto Twitter and react to what Rather writes. They don’t seem to follow and forget. That wouldn’t be worth much.

Most of what Rather has on his mind, these days, is probably what you have on yours: politics and COVID-19. All but the first and last two posts — plus a few special retweets from overseas — are in chronological order.

Nov. 19, 11:10am
Nov. 19, 9:32pm
Nov. 21, 1:25pm

That was for history buffs.

For non-history buffs, Nero was the was the fifth Roman emperor, living from the years 37 to 68, and ruling from 54 to 68. He’s known for tyranny, extravagance and debauchery. There’s a popular legend Nero played the fiddle while Rome burned. Actually, the fiddle wasn’t invented until about 1,400 years after Nero’s death.

Nov. 21, 2:33pm
Nov. 21, 5:53pm
Nov. 21, 8:22pm
Nov. 21, 10pm
In the meantime, do you believe?
Nov. 22, 10:57pm

Of course, there are a whole lot more well-paying positions to be had than just a cabinet. Look at our postmaster general, administrator of general services, and whatever job Andrew Giuliani has. (Wikipedia describes it as an associate director in the Office of Public Liaison who “helps arrange sports teams’ visits to the White House” and he “has also represented his office in White House meetings on the opioid crisis.” Giuliani’s salary jumped from $77,000 to $95,000 in less than three years. He’s also Trump’s golf buddy and has been called “Trump’s most regular playing partner.” Maybe he lets the president win.)

Cabinet officials have to be confirmed by the Senate, and more positions than not don’t have that requirement.

Rather reported from the Houston for the Associated Press, United Press (the “International” came later) and the Houston Chronicle. We’ve seen reporters willingly become electroshock weapon victims to show us what law enforcement using Tasers could do, but Rather actually tried a dose of heroin with police permission while doing a story on it. This was the mid-1950s!

Rather also made news as news director of CBS affiliate KHOU in Houston, showing a radar image of Hurricane Carla under a transparent map of the region. Hundreds of thousands of people, scared by the huge size of the storm, evacuated the region, saving many lives. Hurricane Carla wasn’t just big, but strong: the most intense U.S. hurricane landfall on the Hurricane Severity Index.

He started from working for CBS News in 1962 but didn’t exactly adjust to the Big Apple at first so he was returned to the Lone Star State as Southwest Bureau chief in Dallas, and then Southern Bureau chief in New Orleans. (Imagine a network news bureau in New Orleans these days, or even before Hurricane Katrina!)

Rather just happened to be back in Dallas for President John F. Kennedy’s assassination on Nov. 22, 1963, for the 95th birthday of President Franklin Roosevelt’s vice president (first two terms, 1944-41), John Nance Garner. He was supposed to drop off film at a radio station but found himself near the grassy knoll, ran through Dealey Plaza, and didn’t know anything about the Kennedy story until arriving at the radio station. That’s according to his 1976 autobiography, The Camera Never Blinks.

Rather distinguished himself later that day, and the rest is history.

Nov. 23, 10:44pm

I can assure you Rather was not referring to his own work.

Nov. 25, 12:05pm

Nobody can say he doesn’t pick his battles, or know when to agree to disagree. I’m with Dan on this one!

Nov. 26, 11am

Few could say it better. I’m not one of them.

Nov. 27, 11:54am

This musical accompaniment to Donald Trump’s whining won’t drown out the president. Actually, one website I found claims the first reference to the tiny instrument in popular culture was in a 1978 episode of M*A*S*H, (Mondays at 9/8 on CBS).

“Major Margaret Houlihan (Loretta Swit) rubs her thumb and forefinger together and says: ‘It’s the world’s smallest violin, and it’s playing just for you.’”

Makes me think of this meme:

Nov. 27, 7:26pm

I taught first grade for eight years. Everybody should be well-rounded.

Nov. 27, 7:28pm

Sounds like a hard job. I’ll bet some people would fold or crumble, and not get promoted. But not Dan Rather.

His 40+ years at CBS News spanned promotions to foreign correspondent and White House correspondent, six years on 60 Minutes, and then the ultimate: 24 years as anchor of the CBS Evening News, taking over from the forced-to-retire Walter Cronkite, most trusted man in America.

Rather had subbed on Cronkite’s broadcast but now had to make the newscast his own. He started off first place in the ratings, as Cronkite had been for years, but then went to second place, back to first, second again, and finally last.

Rather got a bit of a solo head start against his competitors who ruled network news from the 1980s into the 2000s. Tom Brokaw had a co-anchor and Peter Jennings had two! I also think he was the most unique (if that combination of words makes sense) of the three. I’d give ABC’s Jennings honorable mention for his very non-traditional background, but think NBC’s Brokaw made his mark with The Greatest Generation, which came well into his anchoring (1998).

Dec. 1, 12:30pm

There are some sick people of a different kind out there. Not lung, but heart and brain problems.

Dec. 1, 4:40pm

As this former newscast producer can tell you firsthand, sometimes no news happens and sometimes the same news happens. How do you get an audience to be responsible and interested in the latest, on days like that? An honest sense of sarcasm wouldn’t hurt!

As anchorman, Rather had to deal with other sources of news, such as cable and longer local newscasts, scooping the three networks on national and international news, which was their specialty.

For the first week of September, 1986, Rather tried ending his broadcasts with the word “courage” and was ridiculed for it. Rather reportedly admitted he was the only person who liked it.

Some say it was Rather’s way of rallying the troops after CBS cut back the news budget, so the most prominent employee ended his broadcast with the word “courage” for the sake of his colleagues. Others suggested it was because CBS was the target of potentially hostile new ownership. Apparently, there was no real reason other than experimenting with how to close the newscast.

Note that on Wednesday of that week, Rather used the Spanish word for courage, “coraje.” The last story that night was about life on the U.S.-Mexican border.

In 1987, new CBS owner Larry Tisch oversaw layoffs of 215 CBS News employees. Among those let go in the major shake-up was correspondent Ike Pappas who asked JFK killer (suspect at the time) Lee Harvey Oswald the question — “Do you have anything to say in your defense?” — on live national television (as a WNEW-New York radio reporter who’d gone down to Dallas after the assassination). There was never an answer because Jack Ruby shot Oswald to death before he could respond!

There’s a saying that you never cut your way to victory, and lots of companies in and out of the media should think about that. The reason is they keep doing so! Shareholders may win but the public interest doesn’t (especially important for those using the public airwaves), and the division between the rich and the poor grows. And again, it just doesn’t work!

Take, for example, the first night of the Iraqi invasion in January, 1991. CNN scored, NBC did nobody any favors and CBS’ coverage from overseas, overnight sucked. (Even the station NBC owned in Miami admitted so by controversially leaving its parent company’s special report for CNN’s.) But Rather, the person, made up for his network’s early bad press by being in Kuwait when Iraq was forced out on Feb. 26.

Connie Chung joined Rather on the anchor desk from 1993 to 1995 but that didn’t work out. She did become the second woman to co-anchor a network newscast, after Barbara Walters with Harry Reasoner at ABC in the 1970s.

Dec. 1, 6pm

Commenting on a post from my (and probably our mutual) friend, Brendan Keefe. I worked with him at WFSB-Connecticut, 1997-98 and Dan worked in the same building as Brendan, then a WCBS-TV New York reporter, starting in 2003.

“Silence is complicity.”

Top link (outside)  —  Bottom link (inside)

Did you get that? You may not have known Dan Rather must follow the Auschwitz Memorial Museum’s Twitter site since he retweets the all-too-short biography of an Auschwitz victim on his Twitter feed, every few days. The fact he not only must subscribe but also chooses to retweet them on his feed for the rest of the world to see — and we’re talking about 1.7 million accounts as of now — has to mean it’s a guiding force and principle of his life.

We need to be reminded. Just a few days ago, Saturday Night Live made jokes about people in Staten Island angry about COVID-19 restrictions and not believing the Holocaust happened. I hope Weekend Update (with Pete Davidson, who has some Jewish roots) made its intended point.

In honor of Rather’s judgment and wisdom, I will be posting the same, three times, starting now. It’s too bad Twitter doesn’t have a sad button; only like/love.

Dec. 1, 10:03pm

He’s absolutely right. Do what’s right, don’t keep unnecessary secrets and never let there be an appearance of doing anything wrong.

(top) Dec. 2, 12:34am; (bottom) Dec. 1, 11:49pm

Seems Rather is thinking everyone in the White House knows the whole Trump presidency gig is coming to a close, whether or not they choose to admit it. That’s causing people who worked for him to realize the time for an exoneration is almost done ticking, and we’re going to find out what really happened over the past four years. Of course, I’d be unarmed and embarrassed in a writing contest with Dan Rather!

Dec. 2, 10:05am

It’s like what I wrote about earlier with no news, except instead of the votes trickling in, it’s the non-believers minds’ changing that are trickling. It’s also like the movie Groundhog Day, which I should watch someday!

Dec. 2, 11:19pm

A good reminder from many official oaths — including the president’s, which we’ll hear repeated twice on Jan. 20 — that we have enemies within, but hardly any of the groups mentioned over the past four years are the enemy. That’s where President Trump and his sheep get it wrong. Being of a certain religion or coming from a place to our south doesn’t automatically mean you don’t belong. Oh, and members of our military swear (or affirm) the oath upon enlistment, so let’s hope things don’t get to…

Chung lost her job shortly after interviewing Kathleen ‘Kit’ Gingrich, mother of new Speaker of the House, Newtie. The trusting 68-year-old admitted to the nation her son Newt told her then-First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton was a “bitch” and she made the admission after Chung told her the answer would be, “just between you and me.”

You can watch the Chung-Gingrich exchange here.

The network lost a whole bunch valuable affiliate stations on channels 8, 5, 6 and 2 to Fox, leaving CBS on stations with channel numbers 19, 46, 58 and 62 in those same cities — Cleveland, Atlanta, Milwaukee and Detroit, respectively — that didn’t exactly have state-of-the-art news departments — if they had any — when the local news leading into Rather’s broadcast affected his ratings so strongly. News is the best lead-in to news.

CBS itself bought the station that became WWJ-CBS62 and now runs the CBS Evening News between two episodes of Family Feud. (Disclosure: I was offered the opportunity to produce the 11pm newscast there in 2001, when there were bigger plans. Luckily, I decided to stay in Philadelphia.)

Dec. 3, 9:38pm

What a way with words, a month after Election Day!

Dec. 4, 10:03pm

“Hey Dan! I know what you were doing Friday night!” Good suggestion for all with on-demand, DVDs, VHS, Betamax, etc. That part just doesn’t matter.

Dec. 5, 2:31pm

Draw a picture in your head.

Dec. 5, 4:05pm

Do you know where he got this? In late October, in the first presidential debate (if you really have to use that term for what happened), President-elect Joe Biden mentioned the U.S. was facing a “dark winter” as the Coronavirus continued to spread unabated. Sadly, it has. The earliest I could find this winter associated with discontent due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic effects was further back — in early October — in an opinion piece in The Lowell (Mass.) Sun.

Response Dec. 5, 5:31pm; original tweet 4:04pm

So how popular is Dan Rather on Twitter? Again, the latest number before I publish, but you can always click here to see the latest number (by hundred thousand when one gets so popular). You see who he responded to, but HABF is actually the Hilaria and Alec Baldwin foundation. I swear, if I had money, I’d want a foundation. I promise it would be like the Baldwins’ and not the Trumps’ — any of theirs.

Dec. 5, 6:24pm

Wouldn’t that have been nice! I guess politicians on the right were wrong, getting people’s hopes up, just to let them down. I also knew better than to believe the Lucky Charms leprechaun mascot, Lucky, who claimed the cereal was “magically delicious.” It wasn’t.

Dec. 5, 7:27pm
Dec. 5, 11:31pm

As for his departure from CBS, according to the Briscoe Center for American History at The University of Texas at Austin: “On Sept. 8, 2004, Dan Rather reported on 60 Minutes II about then-President George W. Bush’s service in the Texas National Guard during the Vietnam War.” The producer had broken the Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse story, a few months earlier.

“The report was quickly attacked by bloggers, who questioned the authenticity of a series of documents known as the Killian documents and who focused on the spacing, fonts, and superscript. Rather and his team stood by the story, arguing that the bloggers and the media who picked up their critiques were deflecting away from the questions the reports asked. Rather’s team viewed the memos more as a piece of corroborative evidence and continued to believe in the veracity of the story—which was never questioned itself. CBS nevertheless asked Rather to apologize for the story on air, as the memos could not be authenticated and Bill Burkett, the man who had provided the memos, admitted to have misled CBS about the provenance of the documents.

“On Nov. 24, 2004, Rather announced he would step down as anchor the following March 9, 2005, exactly 24 years after he succeeded Walter Cronkite in 1981.”

CBS appointed an outside panel. After Dick Thornburgh and Louis Boccard reported their findings, CBS asked three executives to resign, and fired the producer.

Rather retired as anchor of the CBS Evening News as he said, in March, 2005.

He “continued working for 60 Minutes Wednesday until the show was canceled in May 2005. He then worked for 60 Minutes until he left CBS in June 2006, as his contract, contrary to what had been verbally agreed upon, was not renewed.”

The controversy led to a lawsuit which was dismissed.

“Rather has stood by the story.”

How many living people his age who are not royalty or presidents-for-life trend on Twitter?

But Rather isn’t through with TV. On the cable channel AXS TV (formerly HDNet), Rather 

“started a weekly news magazine, Dan Rather Reports, for which he was nominated for and won numerous awards.”

Now, he conducts long-form interviews with musicians and other entertainers on The Big Interview with Dan Rather. He also hosts an online newscast called The News with Dan Rather on The Young Turks’ YouTube channel.

The Briscoe Center even has a Controversies page on its DanRatherJournalist.org website, so you can go there and be assured Rather and his fellow Texans did not overlook these gutsy incidents:

  • his punch at the 1968 Democratic National Convention,
  • trouble with Richard Nixon (the “Are you running for something?” exchange),
  • defamation lawsuits against 60 Minutes,
  • the “What’s the frequency, Kenneth?” attack in 1986, the REM song it inspired and also the conclusion,
  • the 1987 “Miami Walk-out” over tennis running two minutes into his newscast and Rather leaving CBS with six minutes of unprecedented black screen,
  • the 1988 controversial nine-minute interview with presidential candidate Vice President George H.W. Bush (Watch Bush asking Rather if he should be judged by the six minutes in Miami and Bush not answering questions about his responsibility in the Iran-Contra affair — below!), and
  • suing longtime employer CBS, claiming the network broke Rather’s contract, committed fraud, tarnished his reputation, and restricted his ability to seek work. (It didn’t.)
Jan. 25, 1988
Next-day reaction from stories by NBC and ABC, and Rather’s own on-air explanation.

Besides big interviews, Dan Rather is a Texas-sized author.

The first two books are from the BLOG POST AUTHOR’s personal collection. My only regret is they’re not autographed, but there’s still time.

Besides the new What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism, Dan Rather is responsible for The Palace Guard, The Camera Never Blinks and The Camera Never Blinks Twice, Rather Outspoken: My Life in News, and more. Click here for a longer list of Dan Rather’s writing, with details, from Amazon (sorry!) along with information on his podcast, Blinking Red.

I actually left a letter to the editor in the middle of I Remember. It was published during my college days, either by The Tampa Tribune or St. Petersburg Times. That’s not too important anymore. Since then, the Times changed its name and bought the Tribune.

Running for elected office is one thing Dan Rather hasn’t done. Think again how much age should be a factor in electing a president.

Rather is also known for what have become known as Ratherisms. Look it up. The L.A. Times defined them in a headline as “metaphors anchored in folksy truisms.” The quips kind of just came out, especially while ad-libbing for a long time on, say, election night. The Briscoe Center offers this compilation of Ratherisms. Of course, the list is not complete. Ratherisms remain; some just moved from TV to Twitter, as you’ve been reading.

This well-deserved honor came as his career changed courses.

Way too many people go on working when they should’ve retired years or even decades earlier. Many have no choice but Dan Rather certainly doesn’t have to worry about money. He may not be doing what he thought he’d be doing, but he’s productive, interesting, educating and doing it well.

Dec. 2, 3:47pm

Looking ahead, Rather wants more Twitter followers, so click here! I follow and hope you will, too. Oh, and the man can still write a convincing tease.

Comments

    1. “President Trump granted a full pardon to Dwayne Michael Carter Jr., also known as “Lil Wayne.” Mr. Carter pled guilty to possession of a firearm and ammunition by a convicted felon, owing to a conviction over 10 years ago. Brett Berish of Sovereign Brands, who supports a pardon for Mr. Carter, describes him as “trustworthy, kind-hearted and generous.” Mr. Carter has exhibited this generosity through commitment to a variety of charities, including donations to research hospitals and a host of foodbanks. Deion Sanders, who also wrote in support of this pardon, calls Mr. Wayne “a provider for his family, a friend to many, a man of faith, a natural giver to the less fortunate, a waymaker, [and] a game changer.””

Something to add? Disagree? Let us all know!

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