This was not the first time Rather tried to savage a member of the Bush family on national television. Rather's 1988 interview with then-Vice President George H.W. Bush was another low point. After a hatchet-job taped piece on Iran-Contra leading into the interview, Rather bullied Bush, constantly interrupting him, suggesting that many Americans didn't believe his account of what he knew about the arms-for-hostages deal. Bush's haymaker punch of a response -- "If you want to rehash Iran-Contra as the only part of my career, how would you like your career defined by your pouty performance, walking off the set when tennis delayed your newscast?" -- was absolutely the most satisfying TV moment President Bush ever handed to conservatives.
If Rather was this tough on every president or potentate, we could accept that. But he wasn't. Rather secured two interviews with Saddam Hussein, both on the verge of his wars with the United States, one in 1990, one in 2003. In both of these interviews, Rather treated Saddam with extreme deference, like a world statesman. He asked in 1990 if Saddam thought Kuwait was "Vietnam in the sand for the United States." He sounded in 2003 like he and Saddam were on an airstrip in Casablanca: "Given the sober moment and the danger at hand, what are the chances this is the last time you and I will see each other?" Rather gained the access, and wasted it on his own vanity.
When it came to the Clintons, Rather was even more of a manicured poodle. In his first interview with President Clinton, on March 25, 1993, Rather began by asking if Clinton had a cold, then added: "I don't know anybody who knows you well who isn't worried about your lack of sleep. Even Mrs. Clinton recently mentioned it. How much do you sleep?" He did the same favor for Hillary that year, saying, "I don't know of anybody, friend or foe, who isn't impressed by your grasp of the details of this (health care) plan."
Rather secured the first post-impeachment interview with President Clinton in 1999, and it was peaches and cream again. There was no time for rough questions, for Juanita Broaddrick, or fundraising from Chinese nationals. Rather began by asking if Clinton knew the duties of the husband of a U.S. senator. When he arrived at the impeachment questions, Rather asked: "We're here in a room with pictures of Lincoln, Washington, Continental Congress. When you look back over this year plus, what's the moral of it? Does it have a moral?"
There is a tragic component in thinking about this. After 43 years and 11 months in the national spotlight, Rather is leaving, and won't be missed.