BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Dan Rather, you say in your book, one of your columns in the book,
that your wife danced with Elvis Presley once.
Mr. DAN RATHER, AUTHOR, "DEADLINES & DATELINES": Well, that's true,
Brian, that in "Deadlines & Datelines," you know, some of the essays
are personal, some of them are profiles of people. And I asked Jean
whether she minded if I put this essay in. It took her about a
half-day, and she finally came back and said, `OK'--Jean Grace Goebel
Rather, to whom I've been married for almost 42 years and known for
forty-f--almost 45 years.
I grew up along Penoke Creek at Winchester, Texas, which is a small
community. And when she was 16, she went to a dance--a rural dance,
and a raven-haired fellow came over and asked her a version of,
`Ma'am, pardon me, but may I have this dance?' She danced with him,
struck up a conversation with him and they kind of liked one another,
but turned out he was a truck driver from Mississippi and he
went--took his truck and went back to Mississippi and became Elvis
Presley. If things had turned out a little differently, Jean could be
Mrs. Elvis Presley, Elvis could be anchoring the evening news and I
still couldn't carry a tune--a book with a lid on it.
LAMB: Where did you first meet her?
Mr. RATHER: I met her in Houston after I had gone to--to college in
Texas and gone to public schools in Texas, and I had a short and very
undistinguished career in the Marines. When I came out, I was
struggling to make a living, and so was Jean in Houston, and we met
LAMB: You also write in one of your columns that your father was
killed in an automobile accident in '62. Where was that? What were
Mr. RATHER: Well, that was in Houston, which--my father worked in
the oil fields for all of his life. He worked with his back and his
hands and his heart. And he was driving to work one morning--he was
an early-to-work person--and a huge concrete truck came across the
center line and hit him head-on, and he died instantly. This was just
after I came to CBS News. I'd been at CBS News just a matter of a
couple of months when he was killed. He was 52.
LAMB: What was your relationship with him?
Mr. RATHER: I had a wonderful relationship with both of my parents.
I've always considered myself mighty lucky and very blessed. I had--I
had a happy childhood with strong parenting. I was ill for a while
with rheumatic fever, and my parents were so supportive during that
period. And I think my relationship with both my father and mother
was really cemented during that period because they were so
supportive. My father loved to fish and hunt. He was a great
believer in work, and he taught me, my--I have a younger brother and
sister--all of us the value of work. Keep in mind that he came up
in--during the Depression, when a job was such a treasure. And he
really instilled that in all of us. But I had an excellent
relationship with him.
LAMB: You say that when they found the car, there was a three-day-old
Christian Science Monitor on the seat, which led you to talk about the
importance of newspapers.
Mr. RATHER: Well, my father had only--I think he finished the 10th
grade, but he--he loved newspapers. He considered newspapers--he
called them `the poor man's university,' and he was a voracious reader
of newspapers. But my father was also opinionated. For example,
I--some of my earliest memories, Brian, are of my father and his
brother, my uncle, arguing about whether America should get involved
in Europe in the late 1930s. My father thought they should have.
He--he thought we--the US should have been in the war before Pearl
But what would happen--he was such a voracious reader of newspapers,
and he--when he disagreed, he--he wasn't particularly tempestuous, but
he was capable of saying, you know, `They've got this all wrong,' or,
`This is the worst opinion I've heard,' and sometimes he would get up
and just throw the newspaper against the wall and say to my mother,
God rest her soul, `Berle, drop our subscription to this paper. I've
had it with these guys.' Well, we soon went through all three Houston
newspapers, every newspaper in Texas, and we wound up being the only
people in our neighborhood to subscribe to the St. Louis
Post-Dispatch and the Christian Science Monitor.
Now e--eventu--we got it two or three days late, but that was my
father's way of saying, `Listen, I--I want a real newspaper here.' But
about the Christian Science Monitor, he had always particularly liked
the Monitor. And long after he had sort of settled into reading,
again, the local newspapers, he always took the Monitor. And the
morning he was driving to work, he--he had a Monitor with him. He--it
was rare for my father to be without a newspaper. Even some of my
early memories of his digging ditches and working really hard, when I
was taken to work with him or something, is he'd have a newspaper
sticking out of his hip pocket.
LAMB: You still have trouble spelling?
Mr. RATHER: Yes. And as I say in "Deadlines & Datelines," if I had
been a better speller, I probably would have stayed in the newspaper
business. This was pre-computers, of course, pre-spell check, and
there's no joy in saying--in fact, I've always been a little ashamed
in it, but I was a very poor speller. And when I tried to make it as
a newspaperman, which I had dreamed of doing, I'd work some for The
Huntsville Item, a small-town newspaper, and had strung for wire
service, but with the wire services in those days, it was still
basically called in to rewrite.
And when I got to the Chronicle for what amounted to a tryout with a
local hometown newspaper, it was pretty obvious that I could write a
little bit, but I was a lousy speller. And a merciful editor at the
paper took me aside and, basically, said, `Dan, you know, as poor as
you spell, you're gonna have a very hard time in newspaper.' So he
kicked me over into radio.
LAMB: What book is this for you?
Mr. RATHER: This is the sixth book that I have done as author,
co-author or editor.
LAMB: I counted, I think, 80 pieces in here. I don't know if--you
know the numbers.
Mr. RATHER: That's about right.
LAMB: What do people get if they buy this book?
Mr. RATHER: Well, first of all, they get a lot of variety. Let me
back up and say they also get a book that is what my wife calls
mercifully short. This is--I wouldn't call it in a thin book, but
it's the thinnest book that I have done. And it's a short book with a
wide variety of pieces. These are essays, with one exception, from
the 1990s. My own favorite essay in the book is called "The Last
Grandmother" and is a reminder how much we owe our grandmothers, but
it's from the 1980s.
And what people get is a wide variety of subject matter, everything
from personality profiles of people such as Madeleine Albright,
Secretary of Defense Bill Cohen, Fidel Castro, Boris Yeltsin to a look
back at events and some of the things when I was covering those events
that either I didn't work into my coverage at the time or have found
myself thinking about since. An example of that would Reginald Denny,
who was beaten so badly in the wake of the Los Angeles riots. I went
back and talked to him and reflected some on race relations and,
frankly, the kindness of strangers.
LAMB: You also credit Frank Bennack of the Hearst Corporation, I
believe, in suggesting you write a newspaper column. How'd that
happen, and who is he?
Mr. RATHER: Well, Frank Bennack is a Texan. He is the CEO of the
Hearst Corporation. He came up in newspapers. He's roughly my age,
probably a year or two younger. And I think partly because he's a
Texan, partly became--because he came up out of newspapering, into
newspapering early and then late with a lot of radio and television in
between that we didn't know each other well, but we knew of each
other. And a--a mutual friend suggested we begin to getting together
for breakfast, and over breakfast one morning he said, `You know, you
should write a newspaper column.'
I hadn't thought about it in a very, very long time, and it sort of
matched my early childhood dreams of being a big byline newspaper
columnist. And so I basically said, `Well, if you're serious, Frank,
let's try it.' And so we have, and I enjoy it. That--it's a writing
discipline, Brian, that I--I welcome. Some of the essays in
"Deadlines & Datelines" come from a radio broadcast I do every day,
and that gives me, I find, not only the discipline of writing
something every day, but also get me--gets me focused on the news of
the day. There's no happiness in saying this, but when you anchor for
a number of network broadcasts, it's very easy to have your focus get
off of the news.
So the discipline of writing that radio broadcast every day--it's just
a short essay--I knew the value of that. And then having a weekly
newspaper deadline, a whole different kind of thing, something that's
going to be in print and doesn't have the--What shall we say?--the
ephemeral quality of television and radio, was another discipline that
LAMB: You call, in here, in the Tribute section, Tammy Wynette `a
Mr. RATHER: And I believe it. I--I've always loved country music.
Later in life I came to appreciate a lot of other different kinds of
music. But I grew up in a household where if Hank Williams didn't
sing it, we didn't know it. And that--I came to believe, as the years
went by, that if you listen to country music, it's probably a pretty
quick, short course in what's going on around the country and what
people are really concerned about. And Tammy Wynette, in particular,
wrote about core issues: divorce, taking care of children when the
man of the house is gone, what I'd call fundamental issues that I came
to believe in her as a very good reporter, in addition to being a good
singer and songwriter. So I had fun with the essay on that, trying to
make that point.
LAMB: You do a lot of interviewing and have for years. How many
years now with CBS?
Mr. RATHER: Let's see, coming on--I have to count back. Coming up
soon, it'll be 37 years.
LAMB: How many years in the anchor chair?
Mr. RATHER: Coming up soon, 19.
LAMB: And during those--all those years, you also have been
interviewed a lot. What happens to you here (points to head) when you
know you're gonna be interviewed vs. the other way around, when
you're doing--doing the--asking the questions?
Mr. RATHER: I regret to say that I do more homework when I'm going
to ask the questions. I probably should do at least as much when I'm
gonna be trying to answer questions. But my preparation, including
preparation time, when I'm the interviewer as opposed to being the
interview subject is much greater. So that's one difference. The
second difference is that when I'm being interviewed, for whatever
reason--and it may be a mistake--I find myself much more relaxed than
when I'm the interviewer.
LAMB: And why do you do it? Why do you jump on the other side? Why
do you write the books? Why do you make the speeches?
Mr. RATHER: Well, first of all, I--you know, I like to work. I love
the news. I'm either cursed or blessed. I consider it to be blessed,
and I have a great passion for news. And I--I know that it's--it can
be more addictive than crack cocaine once you get into it, and that's
what happened to me. You know, I'm--I'm living my dream in getting to
cover the news and be in news. Now as to, `Well, if you're in
television and radio, why write books?' there's a special feeling, a
special joy to me to see something between hard covers. This goes
back to being reared as a child in a household in which people placed
a high premium on books. I--I think it goes deep back in my childhood
of being a reader, being put on to books by a social worker who
introduced me to libraries later on.
All of that is sort of wrapped up into the--it's a u--for me, a unique
pleasure and a satisfaction in being involved with books. Beyond
that, it gives me a chance to use m--more of my reportorial and
writing skills in a--in a special way than I get to use in--day to day
in radio and television. And as for speeches, I care about
journalism. As corny as that may sound to some people, I really--I
deeply care about it. I--I care about the craft, I care about the
profession. And m--I don't always make speeches about it, but those
are my favorite speeches, and that's basically why I go around and
make speeches. There are other reasons, including that when you're on
television, you need to keep the brand name up there. It's one of the
things I have learned. Took me a long time to learn that, and it's
not my favorite thing, but it is--if you're going to be anchor and
managing editor of the "CBS Evening News" and being with "48 Hours"
and "60 Minutes II," that you need to do a certain amount of it for
that reason as well.
LAMB: What would you say today is the definition of journalism?
Mr. RATHER: A first draft of history that deals with those people
and events that are interesting and/or important.
LAMB: You've--go into some detail in here about the whole Clinton
year of impeachment. You wrote seven columns on it in here. But
before we get to that, let me ask you about something that you allude
to somewhere: JonBenet Ramsey. Why has that been a story?
Mr. RATHER: Well, I'm glad you ask because it's something I feel
pretty strongly about. I think it's been a story primarily because
there were pictures of this very young child in adult clothing. Among
the criticisms that, to me, bite the deepest and have the most
validity, criticism of journalism--and I do not except myself from
this criticism. I'd like to think that I and at CBS News, we've been
a little better on this one than some, perhaps most others.
But this was a murder case. Murder makes news. There's no argument
about that. But particularly in the early going, the early weeks and
months, coverage of this case was, in my opinion, vastly overdone. I
think it was vastly overdone because there was a strain of--I don't
think it's too strong to say--kind of child pornography, and just
pictures and repeating of the pictures. I--I don't like what it says
about where journalism is at this point, that that was the case. And
almost everybody succumbed to it in one way or another. And the
reason I included the essay in "Deadlines & Datelines" is I feel so
strongly about it.
LAMB: Well, did--you know, a lot of the ti--we know what you do
'cause we see you. What are the things you do behind the scenes that
you don't talk about where you stop something from happening? Do you
ever turn to somebody and say, `We are not doing that story anymore'?
Mr. RATHER: Yes. The CBS tradition has been that when you anchor
the evening news, you're also the managing editor. Now some others
have gone to at least a modified version of that in recent years, but
this came out of Ed Murrow's feeling when CBS News was founded, even
radio, that the--if you want to know who's responsible for the
newscast, the person who does the newscast has to be ultimately
responsible. It's obviously a collegial process and a collaborative
process and team play, but I do, in the end, have the responsibility
of the broadcast.
So there have been times when I've said no. I fault myself most
in--most gr--mostly for those times that I haven't said no. But a
case in point would be the Bobbitt case. I mean, who remembers the
Bobbitt case, this terrible thing? The woman cut on her husband. And
there was a lot of what I considered to be just hype about it saying,
`Well, we're covering this case, we're putting it on the front page,
we're putting it on newscasts because it has some deep sociological
significance.' I didn't believe that then and I don't now. And on--in
that particularly case, I just said, `Listen, we're gonna walk away
from this story.' And, by and large, we did. We took some criticism
for it--I did--and there's still people within CBS News who would say,
`Look, I can respect what Dan did, but in terms of circulation, in
terms of ratings, it wasn't a smart thing to do.'
But, again, I--I don't think any of us in journalism say no often
enough, and by pointing out and answering your question and giving you
an example, it's--it's, by no means, self-serving because the times
when I've walked with myself along the river in the woods and say,
`Well, can I do this better?' most of those times I'm lecturing myself
that I didn't say no to that kind of coverage.
LAMB: Right now, radio column--or radio piece, newspaper column,
anchor of the evening news, "48 Hours, "60 Minutes II." Anything else
Mr. RATHER: No. I think that about does it.
LAMB: How do you do it all?
Mr. RATHER: I get up early, stay late. I think of myself as a
long-distance runner and an all-day hunter when it comes to news.
LAMB: How long are you gonna do all that?
Mr. RATHER: I have no idea. As long as I have my health and as long
as anybody will let me do it, I'll be doing something in news. I may
not be doing--anchoring the evening news or doing any of the programs
that you mentioned, but I--it's been my experience, Brian, that one
usually finds time to do those things that you really like to do and
you really want to do. And I do like to work and I do love the news.
Now I have an off switch, and I've gotten a little bit better about
being able to hit that off switch. I love to do a lot of other
things: fish, walk the woods, be with my wife at the theater, all of
those things. But I try to do a lot because I really do love to work
and love the news.
LAMB: How many kids do you have?
Mr. RATHER: I have two children.
LAMB: How old are they?
Mr. RATHER: Both grown. My daughter, Robin, is 40 and my son, Dan
Jack, is 38.
LAMB: Where'd he get the name Dan Jack?
Mr. RATHER: Well, you know, in Texas, everybody--every male has two
names. My wife, Jean, said only half-jokingly she never dated anybody
without two first names until she was at least 20 years old, and...
LAMB: Do you have two?
Mr. RATHER: No, I haven't. But with Dan Jack, who was born in
Texas, spent every summer there with his grandmother, it just sort of
caught on with him. Nobody wanted him to be a junior. He isn't a
junior or--but--but it--it's also a name that fits him. He was a--he
was a great admirer of Jack London and Jack Kerouak, and just Dan Jack
sounded Texan. Both my children feel their Texas roots very strongly,
and it just seemed to fit.
LAMB: Where are they today?
Mr. RATHER: My daughter, Robin, has her own company. She leads her
own company in future technology research in Austin, Texas. My son,
Dan Jack, is an assistant district attorney. He tries criminal cases
in New York City.
LAMB: Do they have families?
Mr. RATHER: They do.
LAMB: Do you have grandch--kids?
Mr. RATHER: I do. I have one grandchild, I'm very happy to say.
We've had a little trouble with him. He's been hacking into other
people's computers at age two, but we've managed to--to control that.
LAMB: In your book, you--you say this about the 1998 impeachment
situation: `It's already clear that the press has won few admirers in
recent months. We've depended on rumor and innuendo reported as fact,
information that suspect or inadequately confirmed and, in far too
many cases, wallowed in the lurid atmosphere. We might have risen to
our responsibilities, acted as models of decorum, helped our fellow
citizens during a time of confusion and crisis, but we seldom did.'
What was so wrong with what you did?
Mr. RATHER: We diminished the standards of journalism.
Mr. RATHER: Ran with rumor, didn't check. Frequently stories not
only failed to have double sourcing, which I believe--which I believe
strongly, a lot of times it had no sourcing. And also, what I said
about concentrating on the--the lurid--lurid, even salacious details
of it--look, an impeachment of a president is serious and an important
story, but so often, you just go with the main rope of the story dealt
on the edges. I--I've--you know, I lament this, I lament what it's
done to journalism, and I do not for one second try to duck or dodge
my own responsibility in--in contributing to this. But the--I think
the biggest thing, Brian, was the--to me, was almost overnight, it
seemed to me, that the idea of checking things out, making sure things
were true before you broadcast them or wrote them just sort of went
out the window in many important ways. And the other was to
concentrate on those things that we thought were the most interesting
rather than the things that were most important.
LAMB: Well, where were you really wrong? When did you report
something that turned out to be not true in the end?
Mr. RATHER: Well, I think some of the--the...
LAMB: And where do you draw the line?
Mr. RATHER: Well, the--that--I'll give you an example: that Ken
Starr had solid information, he had enough information to indict the
first--first lady, I think, proved out to be wrong, because if he'd
have had that, he would have indicted her. A--and this is one small
example of where I think we fell into a trap of being used by people
for their--for their own purposes without checking things out. Now
I'm not suggesting that that's a lurid or salacious detail. That
did--did deal with the main track of the story.
We were wrong--talking about journalism as a whole, there were all
kinds of alleged eyewitness reports of people who were--supposedly,
reportedly and allegedly had seen the president in compromising
situations. I know of none of those that turned out to be true.
LAMB: In one of your columns--and this is not exactly on the subject,
but it's Fred Thompson. This is 1997. You said, `The biggest
complaint you'll hear is that the hearings are dull'--this is you
writing. `We live in an era when just about everything from
journalism to schoolbooks seems cursed if it's not entertaining. But
when did we decide that politics had to be entertaining?'
Mr. RATHER: I think that's a pretty good question.
LAMB: When did we?
Mr. RATHER: I don't know. As with the start of a war, sometimes
very difficult to pinpoint the exact moment when something such as
this happened. I think that we probably made that decision as a
people in a society sometime in the '70s, going into the early 1980s.
I've--I've spoken about this in terms of journalism and I now--and one
reason I put this essay into "Deadlines & Datelines," I'm beginning to
think about it in political terms--that entertainment values have
almost now completely overwhelmed news values. There's nothing wrong
with entertainment values. Entertainment is very valuable in a
culture, in a society. But entertainment values are different from
There's always been a struggle in television, for example, not to have
entertainment values overwhelm news values, but in television
journalism, we've almost lost that battle. Now we find in politics
that if we aren't very careful, the test of any candidate is how
entertaining that candidate is and how sharp his sound bites. `Does
he wear lizard boots or does he wear brogans?' become the focus. And
very early in campaigns you hear it said, `Well, this guy has no
chance because he's dull.' Nobody says his ideas are bad or he--what
he proposes for the country's bad. He's just dull.
Well, I see that in at least some important ways there were--there's
a--translation is, `He's not very entertaining and, therefore, if he's
not very entertaining, he's not gonna be president or vice president,'
or name the office. And I think that's something we need to be a
little more thoughtful about. If enter--not having entertainment
values at least completely overwhelm the political process.
LAMB: How often do you look at your ratings?
Mr. RATHER: I'm afraid to tell you how often we look at the ratings,
Brian. Every day. There are people who look at them more than once a
day. When I came to the "CBS Evening News," I very quickly determined
that it wasn't professionally healthy for me to look at them any more
than once a week. I pretty regularly now get some criticism that,
`Listen, Dan, you can't run a daily news program and not look at your
ratings, at least the overnight ratings, every day.' But let me tell
you, once a week is plenty for me.
LAMB: Do you know what spikes it up? Is there such a thing? I mean,
does it--does it matter whether you're there or not?
Mr. RATHER: You mean whether the anchor is there or not?
LAMB: Yeah, the name, the anchor.
Mr. RATHER: There's no empirical evidence that I know of that would
prove a direct causal relationship between--for example, I went to
Belgrade and--twice in the first seven weeks of the war, and there was
a school of thought, evening within my own building, that it could be
even counterproductive. However, having said that there's no
empirical evidence as a causal relationship between the ratings going
up or down and the anchor going, first of all, I--it's very important
to me that I get a--grab a pencil and a notebook and get out of the
office, that I don't want to be an anchor-reporter. I want to be a
reporter-anchor. And in order to be authentic, you have to get out
and cover stories. And I think that you have to, at least some of the
time, get out and cover big stories.
So one is what it does for my own self of s--of reportorial self.
Secondly, I do think that it echoes, it has a lasting effect on the
audience if, over a period of time, they know that you're a reporter,
you don't just play one on TV. So whether it directly affects the
ratings in any given week or even month or not, I do think that over
the long pull--I know it's important for quality journalism, and I do
think that over the long pull it w--it can affect the ratings.
LAMB: Why do you think then, over the last 20 years, the evening news
ratings have gone down so much?
Mr. RATHER: Well, there are a lot of answers to that question, but
among the important ones is that the size of the competitive pit has
grown so tremendously that, in New York now, my combined cable system,
I think I get 79 channels; off satellite, even more. So one reason:
that people have more choices now than they've ever had before. They
obviously have more choices of entertainment, but they also have more
choices in news. And this is to say nothing of the development of the
Internet, which will get ever bigger, but has already had some effect
So I think it's the--the enlargement of the competitive arena
business. It's become much more competitive. I also think that we've
done some things ourselves that isn't--when we speak of the
deterioration of the standards of journalism, for me, I--I recognize
it as another view, but I think this affects the audience. I think
the audience says, `Well, listen, the evening news has sort of gone
into,' quote, "News Lite,"' as some evening news broadcasts have.
I--I consider it, you know, part of my job to keep the "CBS Evening
News" hard news, as hard as we possibly can, but I wouldn't kid
anybody that there are great pressures to make it more entertainment,
quote, "soften it up" because the belief runs strong if you do that,
you attract a larger audience. I have a different view, but I'm in
the distinct minority.
LAMB: Do you ever have a meter on yourself that says at some point
you can't take it any longer, that if they keep pounding on you that
you gotta, you know, put the kind of stuff that you don't like on,
that you'll--you'll take a walk?
Mr. RATHER: No. It--that's the short answer. The more complicated
answer: that my father, one of his favorite sayings was, `You'd
better know where you stand, or you'll fall for anything.' And I do
have within myself a short list, a checklist of things that I will not
do and things that I will do. And, you know, I don't think in terms
of walking. I always think in terms of finding common ground. And if
somebody suggests that we do something with a broadcast that I--with
which I'm involved that's incompatible with my journalistic
conscience, I always think that I can bring them around to my
viewpoint. That may be a little too idealistic, but I always think I
But, you know, I'm at an age and stage where I don't have to do this
for a living and I'm aware that that's rare in journalism, that I know
what it is to have to be worried about the job when you come in in the
morning, and I know what it is to--to say, `Well, if the boss doesn't
like what I do, I'm out of here.' That's the reason I think people who
do what I do, that have job as a network anchor or managing editor of
a broadcast, have a great deal more responsibility and a great deal
more to answer for than your average line reporter. As I say, I can
walk away from this job today and I'm gonna be just fine. Most people
who work in journalism can't say that.
LAMB: You--you know, there've been a lot of books written and
articles written about CBS News. Ed Joyce had the book "Prime
Time"--I don't remember what--"Bad Times" or something like that.
Mr. RATHER: I don't remember the title myself. It was, "What It Was
Like to be Dan Rather's Boss" was--was the subtitle.
LAMB: Yeah. You're--but you're in there, and there have been lots of
articles written about you. What do you think you have that allowed
you to survive all this competition after all these years?
Mr. RATHER: Quite honestly, I have no idea. My guess is that my
determination to get up early, stay late, to work and to keep myself
focused on news and to keep myself a reporter at--probably has as much
to do with it as anything else. But, Brian, I always have an acute
sense of being mightily blessed and very lucky, not only to be able to
live my dream, to make a living doing what I so passionately wanted to
do, and that is report news, but also to have survived and, yes, even
thrived for this long at or near the top. I mean, I consider it a
minor miracle and perhaps not so minor.
But as to how that's happened, I don't know. You know, I'm pretty
much a head-down, tail-up work and don't worry about the other stuff
kind of person. No one can do that perfectly all the time. But in
terms of surviving, I have to believe that's played a part.
LAMB: I want to run a little clip of an interview I did with Roger
Mudd about two, three weeks ago here. And, if I remember right, you
two were competing. What was it, '81 or something like that?
Mr. RATHER: Yes, '80 was actually when it came to a head. I mean,
for some context, Roger believed that he was going to be the successor
to Walter Cronkite, and my own opinion is I think he believed that for
good reason. I think that he had been told that, and over a long
period of time it had been written a lot. And when my contract was
up, and I had an offer to go elsewhere and talked about it with my
superiors, they asked me, `Well, if you were to be one of the two
successors to Walter Cronkite, how would you feel about it?' They
asked me if I was prepared to double anchor with Roger Mudd, and I
said instantly, `You bet I'll do that.'
Their vision is--the late Bill Leonard and others--thought the
succession to Walter Cronkite might be Dan Rather in New York and
Roger Mudd in Washington. Now I was told pretty quickly I--a day or
two after that that they had talked to Roger about it, and he had
declined to do that, not with any hostility, but just said, `No, I
don't want to do that.' And it was said to me, whether it was true or
not, that his belief was that he was entitled to be the successor and
he'd expected to be the successor, and he wanted to do it as Walter
had done it, alone. And so after that, they said to me, `Well, would
you be willing to succeed Walter Cronkite as a sole anchor?' And I
told them I would.
LAMB: This isn't really about you. It's about Roger Mudd. I just
want you to see what he said just a couple weeks ago about the state
of the news business, and see what you think.
(Excerpt from previous BOOKNOTES)
LAMB: Are you sad or glad that your anchorman days were over--I don't
know how many years ago? How long ago did--did you leave network
Mr. ROGER MUDD ("Great Minds of History"): I left in '87--'87.
LAMB: So that's 12 years ago.
Mr. MUDD: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: Are you glad it's over or would you liked to have stayed doing
Mr. MUDD: Well, I--no. I--you know, I--things have changed so much,
Brian. Priorities are not the same. What you try to do is not the
same. The audience you try to reach is different. The kind of
stories that they use now are different. And it's--and, no, I--I
don't think--I don't think I w--I wou--I would go back, could go back
and--and would be happy going back. I think it's all--I mean,
I've--I've had a marvelous life with the networks, ups and downs,
mostly ups, and was privileged to be a part of--of--of, you know, a
splendid news organization in CBS. You know, when you--when you went
somewhere with CBS, you felt like you were the New York Yankees
arriving because you--you knew there wasn't anybody any better. And
we were awfully good--I mean, had an awful lot of good people. And we
knew what we were doing. And we knew what was news and what wasn't,
and maybe we ha--had too much hubris, I don't know. But in any event,
I think--I think it would be very difficult to go back. So I--to
answer your question, no, I'm not sad about it.
(End of excerpt)
Mr. RATHER: This is the Roger I know and have always admired.
Honest answer from a wonderful person and a wonderful journalist.
LAMB: Is there--I mean, he--he's creating a--a sense that th--things
are different today than they were then. And is there a difference in
the way you--you feel about the news product that you have today than
when you were White House correspondent 30 years ago?
Mr. RATHER: Well, of course there is. Everything in life has
changed tremendously. But I think the core of what Roger was getting
at is something with which I basically agree. He said, `Look, it's a
different time. The audience is different. The approach to news has
to be different. And in that, there are things to lament, things
lost.' And I--with that, I basically agree with him. I think, you
know, the difference is I'm still in it, still doing it and still
enjoying it. It's--I have--I hadn't seen that clip before, but I
gather from him that he doesn't think that he would enjoy doing it
now. And I can respect that.
LAMB: You've, over the years, had written about you--that--that
the--the different phrases you use and all that. And I think that one
of them that was written about a number of years ago was your use of
the word `now'--two words: `now this.' And that was a sign that
things had all changed in this business.
Mr. RATHER: Wow, I never heard that.
LAMB: You never heard that? It was written--I'm trying to remember
the--I'll think of it in a minute--the professor that wrote it--wrote
about it. But you refer in here all the time to your reporter. And
as you know, you use phrases like `make no bones about it,' or
something like that. Are those calculated by you? Do you think those
out in advance? Or do they just come to you?
Mr. RATHER: No. I--I think--there are two things in that. I don't
know anything about that `now this.' I--I have read from time to
LAMB: Do you remember using it? Do you still use it?
Mr. RATHER: Yes, but I don't--not very much. I'd love to see
whatever that professor wrote, but never mind, professors are that
way. Maybe he's picked up something I'm not even aware of. One
thing, on--on radio I always, `Now please this message.' And I get
letters from people who say, `You may be the last man on the air who
uses the word "please."' But in society, `please,' `thank you' and
`you're welcome' have gone a little out of fashion. In fact, one of
the essays in "Deadlines & Datelines," "Service With a Smirk," deals
with that very issue.
But back to the use of what some people call colorful language, no.
It may seem calculated, but I grew up around people who loved to use
phrases like `he's all hat and no cattle' or, `his hair is dark as a
raven's wing.' It was just a way of saying things in a little
different fashion as a way of keeping things interesting. And it
isn't calculated on my part. It just comes very naturally to me.
LAMB: The "Service With a Smirk" piece, back in June of 1998, you go
into some detail about today's service industry. What--what triggered
Mr. RATHER: Well, what triggered it was watching what happened to a
friend of mine when this person brought in some film to be developed
at a camera shop. And it just sort of brought things together. I
said, `You know, this has happened to me so many times. I think
there's something happening in American society, so certainly American
business, that the idea that you will say "please," "thank you,"
"you're welcome" and that "the customer comes first," in too many
instances of my own personal experience, no longer exists.' And so
this little essay about "Service With a Smirk" was an effort to call
attention to that.
LAMB: What's causing that in this country?
Mr. RATHER: I wish I knew.
LAMB: And how often do you see it, personally, today?
Mr. RATHER: A--a lot. A l...
LAMB: Like where?
Mr. RATHER: A lot. Hotels, airlines, restaurants, almost any
business you go into. There certainly are notable exceptions to it,
and I try to mark those exceptions in my mind and go back to that
place of business. I think part of it may be that we don't emphasize
in teaching our children quite as much, as was the case when you and I
were coming up, the importance of the little niceties and the little
courtesies and particularly as applied to business. I do think it
makes a difference if someone says `thank you.' I do think it makes a
difference if someone says--listens very carefully to what your needs
are and tries to address them. At one time this was considered
fundamental in business. I think it still is. But in training people
to do it, I sense there's a problem, which is one reason I wrote
"Service With a Smirk."
LAMB: You suggest that the whole entertainment thing in--in
television might have started with "Sesame Street."
Mr. RATHER: Well, I think there's something to that. I love "Sesame
Street," and I consider it to be one of the--one of the treasures of
television. Let's face it, they--there aren't many. But I--I wrote
that sort of tongue in cheek. I--I don't want to blame "Sesame
Street" for all of what's happened to American journalism. That--even
for me, that'd be a bit of a stretch.
LAMB: If you could do a program at night that was absolutely what you
wanted to do and you never had to worry about a rating point, what
would you do?
Mr. RATHER: I would do a one-hour news broadcast that would be live
across the time zones in the continental United States, none of...
LAMB: Same time?
Mr. RATHER: Same time. I would--if--well, frankly, I would prefer
10 PM in the East and 10 PM--9 in the Central time zones and 10
in--out West. And I would like to make it a combination of the best
of the hard-news "CBS Evening News" and the best of "60 Minutes" and
the best of "Nightline." I think such an hour is viable in prime-time
commercial television. The problem is that I may be the only person
around who believes that it is. I--I'm not saying that we would win
the ratings for the time period. But given a reasonable period in
which to prove ourselves, I think it would be viable in terms of the
ratings and, therefore, in terms of advertising. But I can't find
anybody else who believes that, and that's probably the reason we
don't do it.
LAMB: But couldn't you have gone to work for CNN and done that if you
Mr. RATHER: Yes. And I--if I could have gotten to CNN at a certain
time, I would have gone. It's a sm--much smaller audience. That's
not the reason I didn't go. I didn't go because I couldn't get there
at the time, and I would have loved to have done it. I would like it
even more to be able to do it with a large audience. By and large at
CBS News, we'd be talking to audience 10 times the size of CNN's best
audience. And, naturally, I'd prefer to do the broadcast before the
largest audience, but that's not the option. So there was a time when
I said, `Yes, if CBS would let me out of my obligations to them, I'd
go to CNN and try it.' But it was not to be and probably for the
LAMB: When did you enjoy your job the most?
Mr. RATHER: Today. I--I've--again, I've been so enormously lucky
and blessed. You know, when I was a White House correspondent, Brian,
I believed it was the best job I'd ever have, and I did enjoy--I
nev--there was not a single day I walked through the gates at the
White House that I didn't feel a--a sense of responsibility and duty
and feel terrifically about it. But I've loved every job in
journalism I've ever had. And each time--you know, when I was at the
White House, I thought, `Boy, being a White House correspondent is the
greatest job I can ever have.' When I was on "60 Minutes" in the '70s,
when we were taking it to the top of the ratings and getting good
criticals, I said, `Boy, this is the best job I'm going to have.' When
I walked in to do the "CBS Evening News" as the successor to Walter
Cronkite, I thought, `This is the best job I'll ever have.' And I--and
I love it now. I have a lot of interesting work to do now. So the
best time is right now.
(Graphic on screen)
William Morrow & Company 1350 Avenue of the Americas New York, NY
LAMB: Do you ever want to give your opinion in these columns directly
and pull back because you don't want people to know what you think?
Mr. RATHER: O--often that happens. That--I am committed to a--a
phrase that's become a bit archaic in journalism. I'm committed, by
and large, to objective journalism, which is to say journalism that
takes the view, `My major responsibility is to be accurate and fair,
to be an honest broker of information.' And I quote the late Ed Murrow
in "Deadlines & Datelines" saying, "When it comes to opinion, I don't
think mine are worth any more than the guy at the end of the bar."
Now it is true with something like a newspaper column that I'm a
little l--looser. For example, I--I abhor the decline of service in
American business and the decline of common courtesy and politeness in
American life. And it's impossible to read "Deadlines & Datelines"
and not say, `Well, I'm--I know some of the things Dan Rather has an
opinion about.' But my basic job as a reporter is to keep my opinions
out of it, insofar as that's humanly possible. Now nobody can do it
every day and every way on every story. But as is the case with the
Ten Commandments, that's the ideal, and it's an ideal for which I'm
LAMB: Now in this--you've got some columns in here that are dated.
One here's '97. I just--and I bring it up because a lot of--has
changed since then, and I wondered when I read it why they would put
these columns in here a--at this day and age. I'll give you an
example of what I'm talking about. You say here, `His detractors
laughed, but Quayle has a le--serious shot, is making the most of it
and is no laughing matter in the estimation of pros in both parties.'
You say that, `For whatever, if anything, it may be worth, the early
line in the Republican presidential hopefuls at the moment goes like
this: Retired General Colin Powell is the favorite if--mighty big
if--he really wants it and is willing to fight for it.' And the column
basically goes on to point out that John McCain is now a front-runner
for the Republican nomination.
Mr. RATHER: At the time that was written, I think--I believe that
was accurate. It's a good question about why I put it in. And a
c--essays such as that--that's--and that one specifically, the
publisher raised the question, `Do you want to put this in?' One of my
hopes for this book, "Deadlines & Datelines," was to create a picture
of America and Americans in the 1990s. And I thought--I left it in
because I thought it might be valuable to know at that time that's the
way the race shaped up. By the way, I still believe, even at this
late date--it been getting in late--if Colin--if Colin Powell decided
that he wanted the Republican nomination, I, for one, believe he'd
have a very good chance of getting it. But he's shown no inclination
to do it, and Governor George Bush has come on to be an almost
pre-emptory favorite. And things have changed since then.
But I still believe that Dan Quayle has more strength than most people
give him credit for. But look, we're--a--as we speak, that--that
particular essay is dated, but I think it has some value of
creating--the spine of this--"Deadlines & Datelines" is America in the
'90s heading for the new century and the new millennium. And it might
be of value to see where things were at that time. As for John
McCain, we'll see how it comes out with McCain.
LAMB: Where did you get this? `And for those who likely--who would
really like long odds, Jack Welch, CEO of General Electric, is quietly
being urged to have--have a--have a go.'
Mr. RATHER: Yes. When I wrote that, that was true, or--whether he
would admit it or not. And I understand that he declines to
acknowledge it. Look, Jack Welch has run--you could make an
argument--one could make an argument he's run the most successful
corporation in America. What else is there for him? And he's the
kind of person that people come up to and say, from time to time, `You
know, Jack, you should consider running yourself.' And at that time
there was no clear favorite in the Republican race, and I believed
then and I believe now that Jack Welch entertained, for at least a
short while, the idea of, `Well, should I take this seriously or not?'
Now, clearly, he decided against it. Whether he decided against it on
the basis of some private polling or not, I was never able to confirm.
LAMB: You write some about Don Imus. Why do you do his program?
Mr. RATHER: I--I enjoy it. It's a challenge. And I like Imus. Don
Imus, as I write in "Deadlines & Datelines"--he is one of the gentler,
kinder souls around. You'd never know it by listening to his radio
program, but I find him right up to date. You dare not go on the
program if you haven't read the morning papers and read almost
everything inside. I find him one of the more challenging people to
be around, particularly early in the morning. And I just like doing
it. I also like listening to the program.
LAMB: He does--he goes pretty far with his humor.
Mr. RATHER: Too far for my taste some of the time, and I think too
far for his some of the time. I think he sometimes regrets it
himself. But he--you know, here's a person who at one time could have
been classified under that rubric a `shock jock' or shock talk-show
host, and he does some of it for--for effect. As I say, I think
sometimes even he feels he goes too far.
But he--he--he talks serious issues. I can remember once--and this is
part of the reason I go on "Imus." I'd had a rough start with him.
For years he just--boy, he was merciless in his criticism of me.
Maybe it was justified, but that didn't mean it didn't hurt. And I
finally went out there and appeared on the program, taken the view,
`Well, listen, if you're going to say these things about me, Don Imus,
you should at least look me in the eye and give me a chance.' And we
developed a kind of relationship. But I--I came back from a trip to
Bosnia fairly early--early on in the Bosnian war, was my--is my
recollection, and I came on the program and stayed for almost 55
minutes explaining what was going on in Bosnia. Now in radio or
television, that's pretty rare these days. And for him to--to sit
there and listen, ask questions, take it seriously, I walked away
saying, `Don't underestimate this guy. He's serious about caring
about some things. Otherwise, he wouldn't let me on there for 55
minutes talking about Bosnia.'
LAMB: But--but go back. You know, if you r--compare radio today with
radio 30 years ago, what he does is really what people say to each
other a lot. And if you would have told us 30 years ago that they
would ever do that, we would all--th--the--they said the FCC would
never let it happen.
Mr. RATHER: Absolutely.
LAMB: How has it happened, do you think?
Mr. RATHER: Well, deregulation is one thing. We did have--you know,
30 years ago the Federal Communications Commission had the power to
put you out of business if you were in radio or television. It had
enormous power, basically a short license structure. Now in the early
1980s, as part of the general movement for deregulation, which was
started in the 1970s, the--late '70s--that the FCC lost its power.
And I'm not saying this is the--the sole reason, but it--a--a great
deal of the reason that people can say things on radio and television
now that they wouldn't think of having said 30 years ago--is because
there's no price to pay in terms of their licenses.
LAMB: You mentioned that he--that Don Imus was critical of you. How
thin-skinned are you, and what do you do about it if you are?
Mr. RATHER: Well, I--you develop--if you do what I do, you--you have
to develop a thick skin. But I've come to realize that no matter how
thick you think your hide is, that the point of some spears is going
to get down where it hurts. And the longer I go, the more I know it's
better not to respond or certainly not to respond in the heat of the
moment. How do I--you know, I don't consider myself thin-skinned.
I--19 years coming up soon in the anchor chair has hardened my skin
quite a bit, and it takes a longer spear with a sharper point than it
once did to get down to where it really hurts.
The others--I don't consider myself particularly a tempestuous person.
I know that some have painted a picture otherwise, and perhaps I'm
wrong about that. What I do about it now is I try to walk away as
often as I possibly can. And, also, I try to never rule out the
possibility that the other person may be right; that as unfair as I
think the criticism may be, I at least try to pick it up and examine
it with an eye toward, `You know, Dan, you better think carefully.
Maybe--maybe they're right.' If they're wrong, then I just set it down
and try to walk away. On my better days I'm able to do that.
LAMB: You have written a lot and spoken a lot in your years in this
business about Edward R. Murrow. And it--it struck me in--in reading
ab--about him and what you say about him that compared to the amount
of work you do today with all the different things, he--he didn't even
come close. Why in--why is he so much better in history than what
you'll be in history with all the work you've done and all the
Mr. RATHER: Well, I think the main reason is he was a whole lot
better. I mean, when you...
LAMB: At what?
Mr. RATHER: Well, he was--at almost everything: better writer,
better broadcaster, better thinker, smarter.
LAMB: You really think that?
Mr. RATHER: I honestly do. I mean, when we talk about Murrow,
Murrow not only is the--the patron saint of electronic journalism as
we know it, he was the founding saint. It's one of the things, by the
way, I know--I've come to realize has gotten me in trouble with some
of Murrow's successors--that maybe I've concentrated too much on my
admiration for Ed Murrow. But I have no apology for it because I
think he deserves it. The--the integrity that Murrow had, the
bravery, the courage he had to take on the tough ones, the McCarthy
era being one. "Harvest of Shame," one of the two best documentaries
in the history of television being another--here's the point. He laid
down such a--a strong body of work in terms of integrity, and not only
personal but also professional courage, that I do see him as a kind of
polar star out there. It's something I wou--I can never achieve, try
as I may, but it's something to keep moving toward, keep searching,
keep trying to improve and come as close as I can.
I feel very strongly about Murrow in--in--in that regard. And you
say, `Well, he'--I think he worked extremely hard. I'm not sure that
I've outworked Ed Murrow. I l...
LAMB: How many years was he with CBS?
Mr. RATHER: Well, let's count up. He was about 25.
LAMB: You've been there 36.
Mr. RATHER: That's right.
LAMB: I mean, "48 Hours," "60 Minutes II," formerly with "60
Minutes," White House correspondent, anchorman. I mean...
Mr. RATHER: Well, it may be a testament to, `It isn't the quantity
of work, it's the quality of work.' Don't misunderstand me, I--you
know, I've done...
LAMB: Did they always--do you always name "Harvest of Shame" and
McCarthy? Don't you have a list of things that you could...
Mr. RATHER: Well, you know, in that secret place in--behind my
heart, where you really harbor those things, you think, `I have my own
list.' But I know how short the list is and how minor it is compared
to Murrow. I agree, the making of the Murrow legend, basically the
Battle of Britain, the McCarthy broadcast and "Harvest of Shame"--now
he had a lot of other accomplishment, but those are the three pillars
on which the justified Murrow legend are built. There's--no one else
in electronic journalism has had anything close to it, period. And I
know that gets me in trouble with some later people who'd like to
believe they compared with him.
But look, I--I can--I can be dumb as a fence post about a lot of
things, and I am in an egocentric field, television journalism. But
I'm at least smart enough to know that I'm not in Murrow's league, nor
will I be. Eric Sevareid called him `a shooting star the likes of
which we may never see again.' It was true then, and it's true now.
LAMB: I have one really off-the-wall question for you. You've
got--selling this thing, "Dan Rather: Dead--Deadlines & Datelines,"
the audio version of your book read by David Ackroyd, an actor. Why
would Dan Rather, who is a journalist and a--and a radio man and a
television man, have an outfit like this--have an actor read your
Mr. RATHER: One, this is news to me. Widely believed it may not be,
but true it is. I didn't know that. I have a vague recollection
of--someone asked me if I would take the time to do the audio version,
and I think my answer was, `I'm not sure I have the time.' But I have
no defense. I stand at the mercy of the court.
LAMB: What's next that you haven't done that you want to do?
Mr. RATHER: Well, first, I'd like to keep on keeping on. Having
said I love the news, which is true, I always want to co--cover
the--the big story, the great story. And wherever the next great
story happens, I'd like to be there. I consider myself a go-there,
be-there, walk-the-ground reporter, and that's what I'd like to do.
I'd also like to spend whatever time, if any, I have left in the
profession of raising my own standards and then doing a better job
of--of meeting those standards.
LAMB: Toughest type of interview or individual that you've ever had
to get anything out of in your career?
Mr. RATHER: What a good question. Long list of those and a wide
variety. For example, not easy to be alone in Baghdad with Saddam
Hussein and try to probe what's in his mind, what's really is in his
mind. That's one kind of tough interview.
Another kind would be anytime you interview a president or any
political leader in this country. And if you ask tough questions, you
know if you try to bore in, that his political operation or, these
days, her political operation--they're going to turn everything
they've got on you before the interview is over, trying to change
public minds about it. And that's a tough kind of interview to do.
But read none of this as a complaint from me. I have no complaints.
It all goes with the territory.
LAMB: Our guest has been Dan Rather, and the book is "Deadlines &
Datelines," 80 pieces from both radio and his television column.
Thank you very much.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 1999. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.