On the Front Lines of History - Broadcasting & Cable

On the Front Lines of History

A timeline of Rather's career
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The folksy West Texas son of a father who was a oil-pipeline worker and a mother who was a waitress, Dan Rather has been witness to nearly every important world and national event since joining CBS in 1962. He has covered wars and civil strife in Bosnia, Iraq, Haiti and, of course, Vietnam; interviewed political leaders around the world; and anchored six presidential Election Nights.

Nov. 22, 1963: A 32-year-old Rather, the Dallas bureau chief, reports the JFK assassination.

1964: Rather promoted to Washington to cover the White House but is soon dispatched to London and then Saigon in 1965-66.

1968: As a floor reporter at the raucous Democratic Convention in Chicago, Rather is roughed up by Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley's security forces. CBS anchor Walter Cronkite calls the men “thugs,” but Rather, knocked to the floor, replies, “Mind you, Walter. I'm all right. It's all in a day's work.”

March 19, 1974: President Nixon, plagued by Watergate scandals, appears at a National Association of Broadcasters meeting in Houston. During a Q&A Rather, once again covering the White House, approaches the microphone and is greeted by applause and jeers. Nixon asks jokingly, “Are you running for something?” Rather responds, “No, sir, Mr. President. Are you?” Although the entire exchange is a non sequitur, several CBS affiliates think the retort is disrespectful and urge CBS to fire him. After Gerald Ford becomes president, CBS replaces Rather at the White House.

September 1975: Becomes correspondent on 60 Minutes, until 1981.

April 1980: Rather sneaks into Afghanistan dresses as a peasant, to report on rebels fighting the Soviet Union. The Washington Post dubs him Gunga Dan, a moniker that sticks.

March 9, 1981: Rather debuts as anchor and managing editor of the CBS Evening News, replacing Cronkite and beating out Roger Mudd for the job.

September 1982: Feeling that Rather didn't appear as “warm” as the avuncular Cronkite, CBS suggests he wear sweaters on-air to soften his image. Ratings improve.

Oct. 4, 1986: Rather reports being beaten on a Manhattan street by a man who keeps repeating, “What is the frequency, Kenneth?” For years, the story remains a mystery—and eventually becomes the basis of a hit song by R.E.M. In 1997, William Tager, by that time serving a 25-year sentence for killing a Today show stagehand, told psychiatrists he thought the media was beaming signals to him. Rather, looking at mug shots, confirms it's the attacker. (But an alternative theory published in Harper's magazine implicates novelist Donald Barthelme.)

Sept. 11, 1987: The U.S. Open women's semifinal match runs long, delaying the beginning the CBS Evening News and angering Rather, who walks off the set. When the match ends, CBS goes black for six minutes before Rather can be found. Critics and affiliates are irate.

January 1988: Rather becomes anchor and reporter for the new 48 Hours.

Jan. 25, 1988: In a brief but contentious live interview with Vice President (and then-presidential candidate) George H.W. Bush, Rather zeroes in on the Iran-Contra scandal and suggests that Bush's lack of knowledge means his role in the Reagan White House is “irrelevant.” An agitated Bush says Rather duped him by dwelling on the scandal rather than his candidacy.

August 1990: Rather interviews Saddam Hussein months prior to the first Gulf War.

June 1993: Begins co-hosting Evening News with Connie Chung. That lasts until 1995.

January 1999: Rather becomes correspondent for 60 Minutes II.

November 2000: Rather anchors the extraordinary Election Night that leaves all the networks confused about whether George Bush or Al Gore had been elected. Covering his fifth presidential election, Rather is on from 6 p.m. Nov. 7 to 10 a.m. Nov. 8. Early on, he tells viewers, “Let's get one thing straight right from the get go. … If we say somebody has carried a state, you can pretty much take it to the bank, book it, that it's true.” Turned out not so for CBS or others.

December 2000: Rather is first anchor to interview outgoing President Clinton.

February 2003: Rather has exclusive interview with Iraq's Saddam Hussein, just two months before the U.S. invades.

April 29, 2004: Along with The New Yorker magazine, Rather and 60 Minutes uncover U.S. military abuses of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

Sept. 8, 2004: A Dan Rather report on 60 Minutes' Wednesday edition questions whether President Bush's National Guard duty and produces documents that suggests he was given preferential treatment. Experts say documents are dubious because typewriters of that era couldn't produce the lettering shown in the memos.

Sept. 20, 2004: CBS News acknowledges it cannot verify the documents and appoints an independent review. Rather apologizes.

Nov. 24, 2004: CBS says Rather will relinquish his post as anchor of The CBS Evening News, on March 9, 2005, his 24th anniversary as anchor. He'll stay as a correspondent for 60 Minutes.

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