“The Mobile Anchor”
Rather was never content sitting behind the news desk
By Andrew Tyndall -- Broadcasting & Cable, 11/28/2004 7:00:00 PM
As CBS Evening News anchor, Dan Rather brought a dynamic style to the traditionally deskbound job. Replacing Walter Cronkite just as newsgathering became unshackled from the constraints of lighting and land lines, Rather led the newscast from the field.
Dubbed ''Gunga Dan'' as a 60 Minutes correspondent for his field work from Afghanistan, Rather continued to present himself as the lead field correspondent for Evening News instead of its New-York-bound newsreader.
With Tom Bettag as his executive producer, Rather covered the collapse of the Soviet Union and dedicated himself to following the global diplomacy of Mikhail Gorbachev. While he was in Beijing covering a Sino-Soviet summit, the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests began. Rather anchored a 48 Hours special in prime time from the square even before the tanks rolled in.
The following year, 1990 was Rather's most traveled year: He anchored from the field on fully 66 of its 260 weekdays. That year featured Rather's first one-on-one with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein on the eve of Desert Storm—a scoop, let's not forget, he replicated in 2003 before the second U.S. war with Iraq.
Rather was the anchor who asked the correct question of the soon-to-be-deposed tyrant (whether he had any weapons of mass destruction; he got an honest, negative, answer).
Besides diplomacy, Rather's other signature reporting beat on the road was in the eye of a storm. He pioneered the techniques of eyewitness meteorology that are now commonplace on cable television news. Remember this hallmark quote from Hurricane Andrew in 1992: “What this was I do not know. It was three-quarters of a city block of something. Gone. Toys R Us has become Toys Were Us.”
The announcement of Rather's resignation feels like the end of the era. In truth, however, Rather has long-since ceased being the action anchorman, more at home in his trenchcoat than at the heart of a story. For several years Rather, now 73, has been more of a stay-at-home newsreader.
For the first 10 years of The Tyndall Report's database (1988-97), Rather averaged 37 weekday evenings annually on which he anchored from the field (29 for ABC's Peter Jennings, 33 for NBC's Tom Brokaw).
Over the last seven years, Rather is no longer the Big Foot. His on-the-road average has been cut almost in half, down to 20 dates, in third place behind the other two (Jennings 22 and Brokaw 32).
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