Dan Rather
Dan Rather
Deadlines & Datelines: Essays at the Turn  of the Century
ISBN: 0688165664
Deadlines & Datelines: Essays at the Turn of the Century
Ranging from the Iraq conflict to poverty in China, tragedies like the Oklahoma City bombing to triumphs in courage, Deadlines & Datelines offers readers a unique chance to share the insights of one of America's premier newsmen. With his distinctive blend of frontline determination and a journalist's knack for a good story, Rather looks at the awesome struggles and everyday accomplishments he's witnessed at home and around the globe. With candor, compassion, and sometimes irreverence, Rather examines how such figures as Madeline Albright, Bill Gates, and Fidel Castro shape world politics and culture.

Deadlines & Datelines is not without its lighter moments. In one laugh-out-loud essay, Rather skewers the phenomenon of "dumb bass," or bass that are bred to go after any hook in sight. Chapters include "In the News, Across America," "Politics and Politicians," and "Tributes." Throughout these essays, Rather offers readers a wide range of thought-provoking observations and shows yet again the skill and intelligence that have made him an important part of our world for more than four decades.
—from the publisher's website

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TRANSCRIPT
Deadlines & Datelines: Essays at the Turn of the Century
Program Air Date: July 25, 1999

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 there.
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 the circumstances?
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 Harbor happened.

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 I welcomed.
LAMB: You call, in here, in the Tribute section, Tammy Wynette `a great reporter.'
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 I missed?
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.
LAMB: How?
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 news values.

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 on us.

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 can.

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. He...
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 television? 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 it? 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)
LAMB: React.
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 time...
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 that?
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 wanted to?
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 better.
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.

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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 always striving.
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 different shows?
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 stuff?
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.


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