Schieffer Calls Rather a 'Great Reporter,' Williams Offers a 'Tip of the Stetson'

The CBS and NBC anchors signed off Tuesday night by delivering glowing tributes to Dan Rather, who officially departed from CBS News earlier in the day, with CBS’s Bob Schieffer calling him a “great reporter” and Brian Williams offering him “a tip of the Stetson.” Schieffer, who succeeded Rather as anchor of the CBS Evening News, exuded: “I'm going to miss Dan. He's been a part of my life for more than 40 years.” Schieffer touted Rather’s journalistic skills: “When a story broke, he wanted to be there. He thought that was the only way to report a story. That is the mark of all great reporters, that is what I most admired and will always remember about him. Dan Rather was one of the great reporters of his time.”

Williams closed the NBC Nightly News with a personal tribute to Rather’s career, ending: “As the man himself has been known to say many times and on similar occasions, a tip of the Stetson to you and we'll be seeing you down the road." On the controversy which led to Rather’s downfall, Williams asserted: “He was forced to resign 15 months ago after what has since been dubbed ‘Memogate,’ a story about President Bush's National Guard service, for which Rather later apologized.” Unmentioned by Williams: How Rather has yet to concede the story was false or based on forged documents. Last September, Rather declared: “The story is accurate." (Transcripts and links follow.)

ABC anchor Charles Gibson held Rather’s departure to a short item he read sans any fawning comments about Rather.

CBS Evening News, June 20. Before Schieffer's closing comments, viewers saw a fawning tribute to Rather from Anthony Mason who declared it was an "honor" to work with Rather. Then Schieffer opined:
"And just a personal word, I'm going to miss Dan. He's been a part of my life for more than 40 years. We first met at the assassination of John Kennedy when I was a young newspaper reporter. We crossed paths again in Vietnam, and when I joined the CBS News Washington bureau as a rookie reporter in 1969, he was the most famous reporter in America, the White House correspondent for CBS News, but he made me feel welcome. His way was not always my way, and we did not always agree, but we became friends along the way because we shared a great love for news. When a story broke, he wanted to be there. He thought that was the only way to report a story. That is the mark of all great reporters, that is what I most admired and will always remember about him. Dan Rather was one of the great reporters of his time. Good luck, Dan. All the best. I'm Bob Schieffer, good night."

NBC Nightly News. Brian Williams ended with this personal commentary:
“Tonight a long and very public relationship has come to an end in our business of television news. Dan Rather is leaving CBS News after 44 years with the network after he and executives at CBS failed to agree on a new contract. Dan first became known to television viewers, and come to find out his future bosses at CBS, while covering Hurricane Carla. He was young and intrepid and standing knee-deep in water. From there, his career sped off to Watergate with stops along the way in places like Vietnam. Upon the retirement of the iconic Walter Cronkite, Dan took the anchor chair and held it for 24 years. He was forced to resign 15 months ago after what has since been dubbed ‘Memogate,’ a story about President Bush's National Guard service, for which Rather later apologized. His next move has yet to be announced officially. Though he said today, ‘it just isn't in me to sit around doing nothing.’ As the man himself has been known to say many times and on similar occasions, a tip of the Stetson to you and we'll be seeing you down the road.”
As for how Rather “apologized,” that obfuscates his continued denial about the fake documents which drove his National Guard story and his refusal to acknowledge his skewed reporting. A late September MRC CyberAlert item, with video, “Rather: Bush Guard Memo Story ‘Accurate,’ Never Proven Not So,” recounted:
In an interview with Marvin Kalb carried live by C-SPAN from the National Press Club on Monday night [September 26], Dan Rather made quite clear that he believes in the accuracy of his Bush National Guard story based on what everyone else realizes were fabricated memos. Rather argued that "one supporting pillar of the story, albeit an important one, one supporting pillar was brought into question. To this day no one has proven whether it was what it purported to be or not." Kalb pressed for clarification: "I believe you just said that you think the story is accurate?" Rather affirmed: "The story is accurate."

Rather soon maintained that the public recognizes the "hidden hand pressure" politicians exert on media executives and so "they understood that what we reported as the central facts of the story and there were new insights into the President's, were correct and to this day, by the way have not been denied which is always the test of whether," and he moved on before finishing his sentence. Later, talking about using "courage" as a sign-off in the mid-1980s, Rather rued: "There's part of me, it says, you know, 'damn I wish I hadn't caved, I wish I'd stuck with it.'" That prompted Kalb to ask: "Do you think your network showed courage last fall?" Rather answered by remaining silent for seven seconds.

Matthew Sheffield’s NewsBusters posting at the time also reported Rather’s claims and has a video clip.

For the MRC's extensive archive of Rather's liberal bias from over the years, check our index page, "The Dan Rather File: Decades of Liberal Media Bias," which features video of the infamous 1988 encounter with VP George H.W. Bush and has links to several compilations of quotes and videos, such as “Liberal Bias by Topic,” “Liberal Bias by Year,” “Journalists Praise Rather and Rather Defends His Discredited Story,” “Dan's Downfall: Forged Documents,” “'Corny in Kansas' Rather-isms” and “Rather Lame Denials of Bias.”

Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center