Banquo's Ghost

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Banquo's Ghost

For KCRW, this is Nick Madigan of the Baltimore Sun with Minding the Media.

Dan Rather is being shown the door at CBS.

He has given up what he calls "a protracted struggle" with his bosses there, and announced today that he is leaving his professional home of 44 years.

This was not a surprise, but it's a glaring example of the way things have changed at CBS, once a bastion of hard-core broadcast journalists like Edward R. Murrow, Eric Sevareid and Walter Cronkite and, come September, where Katie Couric will try to follow in their footsteps.

Rather, a legendarily eccentric newsman whose high-profile career survived several mishaps, was unable to surmount the biggest calamity of all, a report on President Bush's errratic military career using documents that ultimately proved unreliable.

Rather, who is 74, says that his departure before the expiration of his contract in November "represents CBS's final acknowledgement that they had not lived up to their obligation to allow me to do substantive work there."

Rather intends to remain in journalism, most likely as the host of a weekly interview program on a high-definition television channel co-founded in 2001 by Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team.

The CBS brass is putting a pretty face on Rather's departure. CBS News president Sean McManus said today that, "With the utmost respect, we mark the extraordinary and singular role Dan has played in writing the script of not only CBS News, but of broadcast journalism."

Les Moonves, the CEO of CBS Corporation, described Rather as having left an "indelible" mark on his craft.

"For more than four decades," Moonves said, "Dan Rather has approached the job of broadcast journalist with a singular passion, dedication and, always, an unwavering desire to tell the story to the American public."

Then why let him go?

Rather himself couldn't figure it out.

In an interview with Jacques Steinberg of the New York Times that was published on Saturday, Rather complained that since stepping down as anchor of the CBS Evening News last year, he had been ill used as a correspondent on 60 Minutes and had been given virtually nothing at all to do for the previous six weeks.

He had sought comfort, he said, in Good Night, and Good Luck," the George Clooney film about Murrow and CBS News in the old days, a movie that Mr. Rather said he had seen five times in theaters, most recently alone. The film, for those of you who haven't seen it, depicts one of the shining moments in Murrow's career, when he took on that bigot Joe McCarthy.

What the film didn't show was how CBS eventually edged out not only Murrow but most of the veteran correspondents he had worked with in Europe during World War II. They were the radio guys who made CBS News the leader in its field, the standard by which all broadcasters measured themselves.

Now it's Rather's turn, a sad chapter in a career of vivid highlights. He reported from the scene of John F. Kennedy's assassination, from Vietnam during the war, and famously took on Richard Nixon in a 1974 press conference, at the height of the Watergate scandal.

In March 1999, Rather got the first interview with President Clinton after his impeachment, and in 2003 he sat down with Saddam Hussein in Baghdad, the first time the Iraqi leader had talked with an American journalist in 12 years.

Martin Kaplan, associate dean of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California, said today that Rather's departure, and Couric's hiring, makes sense in the current journalistic climate, where entertainment triumphs over substance.

For Dan Rather, Kaplan said, it must have been hard "to hang around like Banquo's ghost."

This is Nick Madigan of the Baltimore Sun, Minding the Media on KCRW.



Nick Madigan