Dan Rather, who has announced his "retirement" next March from the anchor desk he has held for 24 years, is a dinosaur. After the last of the old news anchors leaves his chair (Peter Jennings will be the final one sitting), Rather, Tom Brokaw and Jennings will be fossils. There will not be their like again.
Rather earned his stripes and paid his dues during a career that has spanned four decades at CBS and as a wire-service reporter before that. He is a man who loves his country. Recall his emotional breakdown on the "Late Show With David Letterman" following 9/11. Rather said he would go and fight the terrorists if the president asked him. Some thought his performance strange, even grandstanding. I thought he meant it.
While Rather is 73 and could have been expected to retire soon (his predecessor, Walter Cronkite, was forced out at age 65), the controversy over faked National Guard documents purporting to show George W. Bush failed to fulfill his military obligations appeared to give CBS management the excuse it needed to make a change. Rather, who helped bring down Richard Nixon, was himself brought down by a gross inaccuracy and a type of stonewalling reminiscent of the president he tormented.
It doesn't matter who replaces Rather. Everyone at that level of broadcast journalism has been ideologically vetted. No one who is a conservative is allowed to ascend to the top of major news organizations. If you disagree, try naming one. Despite plummeting ratings and numerous surveys that have shown large numbers of people believe the major networks approach the things conservatives care about with a bias, even hostility, network executives refuse to acknowledge those feelings and continue to present the news through the filter of their leftist ideological worldview.
Brent Bozell, president of the Media Research Center and a frequent critic of Rather, observed: "Mr. Rather's bias is part of an institutional problem throughout the national 'news' media - identified by former longtime CBS News correspondent Bernard Goldberg - which is the arrogant notion that their point of view is always accurate and always relevant to any story in which they choose to inject it."
More proof that nothing changes at the networks is the appointment of Jonathan Klein as president of CNN. Klein was executive vice president of CBS News. He praised the "60 Minutes" producer, Mary Mapes, who received and vouched for the forged National Guard documents from a well-known Bush-hater. Klein called Mapes "absolutely peerless . . . in the profession. She is a crack journalist."
Klein also blasted Internet bloggers for exposing the forged documents and CBS's error in standing behind them. He stereotyped a blogger as "a guy sitting in his living room in his pajamas writing what he thinks." The bloggers did a better job than CBS news anchors and producers, who sit around in their expensive suits telling us what they think. Klein carries his biases from CBS to CNN.
The "60 Minutes" curmudgeon, Andy Rooney, has been making a bigger fool of himself lately by calling conservative Christians uneducated and ignorant. When the sports commentator Jimmy "the Greek" Snyder disparaged blacks in 1988, Dan Rather aired video of the remarks, which led to Snyder's firing by CBS management. That Rooney still holds his job after stereotyping and disparaging Christians sends a message of bias, even bigotry, to a substantial audience that CBS has mostly lost and obviously does not care if it wins back.
CBS's eye logo is an appropriate metaphor for what ails the network. "There is none so blind as they that won't see," wrote Jonathan Swift. Notice he didn't say "can't see," but "won't see."
CBS is not blind, but it deliberately closes its eyes to the institutional bias that substantial numbers of Americans can see quite clearly. Unlike the period during which anchors dominated the national news stage, people now have choices. They are choosing cable, especially Fox News Channel, in growing numbers.
If CBS continues in denial - and it will - its evening news ratings, which have been in third place for several years, will suffer further decline. It didn't have to be this way for Dan Rather or for the once great CBS. He should have learned from Richard Nixon that cover-up and stonewalling can come back to haunt you.