Dan Rather Rather was born in Wharton, Texas, the son of Daniel Irvin Rather Sr. and his wife, the former Byrl Veda Page. In 1953 he received a bachelor's degree in journalism from Sam Houston State Teachers College where he was editor of the school newspaper, The Houstonian. Rather began his career in 1950 as an Associated Press reporter in Huntsville, Texas. Later, he was a reporter for United Press International (1950-1952), several Texas radio stations, and the Houston Chronicle (1954-1955). In 1959, he entered television as a reporter for KTRK-TV in Houston. Prior to joining CBS News, Rather was news director for KHOU-TV, the CBS affiliate in Houston.
In 1961, Rather reported live from the Galveston seawall as Hurricane Carla threatened the Texas coastline. This action, which has been imitated by countless other reporters to this day, impressed the network executives at CBS, and they hired him as a CBS News correspondent in 1962. In his autobiography, Rather notes that back then TV stations didn't have their own radar systems, and of course nobody then had the modern computerized radar that combines the radar image with an outline map. So he took a camera crew to a US Navy radar station in Galveston, where a technician drew a rough outline of the Gulf of Mexico on a sheet of plastic, and held that over the radar display to give Rather's audience an idea of the storm's size and position.
Ratherâ€”quite by accident, as described in his autobiographyâ€”was the first television journalist to report that President John F. Kennedy had died of wounds received from an assassin. He is also known by Kennedy researchers to have seen the Zapruder film taken by an eyewitness to the passing Dallas motorcade and incorrectly reported that JFK's head went "violently forward" when he was hit. In fact it went violently backwards.
Rather's reporting during the national mourning period following the Kennedy assassination and subsequent events brought him to the attention of CBS News management, which rewarded him in 1964 with the network's White House correspondent position. After serving as a foreign correspondent for CBS News, he drew the assignment as primary anchor for the CBS Sunday Night News, while serving as White House correspondent during the Richard Nixon presidency. His hard punching coverage of the Watergate Investigation and Impeachment proceedings became legendary.
After President Nixon's resignation, Rather took the assignment of chief correspondent for CBS News Special Reports. He later became a correspondent of the long-running Sunday night news show 60 Minutes, just as the program was moved from a Sunday afternoon timeslot to primetime. Success there brought Rather in line to succeed Walter Cronkite as main anchor and Managing Editor of the CBS Evening News.
Rather assumed the position upon Cronkite's retirement, making his first broadcast on March 9, 1981. From the beginning of his tenure, it was clear that Rather had a significantly different style of reporting the news. In contrast to the avuncular Cronkite, who ended his newscast with "That's the way it is," Dan Rather searched to find a broadcast ending more suitable to his tastes. For one week during the mid-1980s, Rather had tried ending his broadcasts with the word "courage" and was roundly ridiculed for it. He eventually found a wrap up phrase more modest than Cronkite's and more relaxed than his own previous attempts. For nearly two decades Rather ended the show with "That's part of our world tonight."
While Rather had inherited Cronkite's ratings lead and held it for a few years, his ratings declined as his network competition changed. Simultaneously, CBS went through an institutional crisis and ultimate purchase by Laurence Tisch.
When Dan Rather took the helm at the CBS News anchor desk the United States had only three commercial television networks: CBS, NBC and ABC. When he retired the three commercial networks were in competition with many more news outlets, including FOX, CNN and the internet. These broadcast competitors have dampened the financial resources of the "Big Three" networks. In 1984, Tisch oversaw the layoffs of thousands of CBS News employees, including numerous correspondents such as David Andelman, Fred Graham, Morton Dean, and Ike Pappas. Fewer videotape crews were dispatched to cover stories, numerous bureaus were shuttered. The Evening News was transformed overnight from a newscast featuring enterprise reports from seasoned CBS News correspondents to one in which Rather would read "voice-over" stories to footage shot by other news organizations. The events depicted in the movie Broadcast News are thought to closely parallel those of CBS' downsizing; Rather is thought by many to be the model for the part played by Jack Nicholson, the anchor whose own astronomical salary was deemed sacrosanct as the little people were let go.
For a short time from 1993 to 1995, Rather co-anchored the evening news with Connie Chung. Chung had anchored short news updates for a number of years. Once joining the Evening News, however, she became embroiled in distracting and embarrassing attempts to hound "pop news" stories. One famous incident had her on an airplane interviewing Tonya Harding, accused of being behind the plot to injure fellow Olympic ice skater Nancy Kerrigan. The Rather-Chung duo was cancelled and Rather went back to doing the newscast solo.
At the end of Rather's career, the CBS Evening News had fallen to a distant last place in network viewership. Although still garnering some 7 million viewers each evening, the broadcast was behind NBC Nightly News and ABC World News Tonight and the networks were all losing influence to cable and the internet news. Rather's departure from the anchor chair was troubling for CBS, as his journalistic credentials were questioned during the 2004 Presidential campaign between George W. Bush and John Kerry. Rather retired, possibly under pressure, as the anchor of the CBS evening news at 7:00 eastern time, 9 March 2005.
Rather is also a columnist whose work is distributed by King Features Syndicate.
His daughter, Robin, is an environmentalist and community activist in Austin, Texas.