In a perfect world, Dan Rather would have left his CBS News studio, and with his crowd of well-wishers and supporters in tow, walked up to the roof of CBS headquarters to board a helicopter to whisk him away from the national stage. Perhaps he could have even offered one last Nixonian gesture, a wave and two-handed victory sign?
But his farewell comments at the end of his last broadcast as CBS News anchor will do just fine.
A mere 215 words, it certainly wasn't verbose, even by the economical standards of the nightly news. And, on the surface, it was fair enough. The guy's gotta say something, right?
But, on a deeper level, his parting thoughts tell a lot about the man, and about the thing that made his broadcasts - and the mainstream media generally - so controversial.
One can forgive Rather for thanking of the "hundreds of professionals" at CBS News he worked with, even if it was a wry reminder that he let a few fellow professionals get the axe for a story he was in charge of.
No, what was most revealing in his farewell was the way he decided to take the word "courage" back down from the shelf.
"Not long after I first came to the anchor chair I briefly signed off using the word 'courage.' I want to return to it now, in a different way," he said, punctuating his sentences with oddly long pauses. "To a nation still nursing a broken heart for what happened here in 2001 and especially those who found themselves closest to the events of Sept. 11; to our soldiers in dangerous places; to those who have endured the tsunami and to all who have suffered natural disasters and who must find the will to rebuild; to the oppressed and to those whose lot it is to struggle, in financial hardship or in failing health; to my fellow journalists in places where reporting the truth means risking all; and to each of you: Courage."
Now, I don't have a huge problem with the sentiment behind Rather's comments, but the fact that the sentiment is there reveals the basic flaw with Rather's lifelong insistence that he was a purely "objective" reporter.
In 1992 Dan Rather told the Los Angeles Times: "I walk out every day trying to have a big 'I' for independence stamped right in the middle of my forehead. I try to play no favorites, pull no punches." He told NBC's Tim Russert: "You know, my job is to be accurate, be fair and, insofar as it's humanly possible, to keep my feelings out of every story. . I do agree that one test of a reporter is how often he or she is able to keep their emotions out of what they are doing and keep their own biases and agendas out of it."