Former CBS News anchor Dan Rather has paired with Mark Cuban's HD Net because he will have "complete, absolute and total creative and editorial control" of his new investigative program, Dan Rather
Reports – news, "like you've never seen it before," he told critics at the Television Critics Association press tour today.
Rather is aiming for the hour-long weekly show to bring to the high-definition platform the "hard-digging, no-holds-barred reporting and excellent writing" on pieces reported with "accuracy, fairness and guts," he said. The show is slated to debut in Oct., when the veteran newsman will turn 75.
Admittedly not a heavy HD Net viewer before his talks with Cuban, Rather said he became "damned interested" in working with the network when Cuban offer to supply him whatever funding he needed to do kind of journalism he wanted to do (the two declined to answer what Rather would be paid for the job).
"This is a situation unprecedented in my own career," he said of Cuban's proposal to give him total control of the show.
"CBS is a large organization…with a chain of command that looks like the wiring of a nuclear plant or something," he said, adding later, "the difference here is that the chain of command begins and ends with me...It's having the ultimate responsibility and accountability of the broadcast."
Staffing has not yet begun for the series, but Rather said he will likely recruit former CBS colleagues for many of the roles.
Asked whether he felt he was "leashed" while at CBS News, Rather employed the colorful speech he is known for, saying he "wouldn't touch [the question] with a 17-foot pole, which is reserved for the things I wouldn't touch with a 12-foot pole," but took pains not to criticize CBS and make clear that he is "always pulling for the people of CBS News."
Rather and Cuban each stressed their new show as one of journalistic merit and criticized TV news organizations and the media that cover them for focusing too much on ratings and on the money
behind the programming.
Calling ratings "one wee small flag waving in the breeze," Rather said the kind of news I want to do with HD Net will emphasize quality reporting over quantitative ratings data and strive to avoid "media group-think."
"So much of journalism – particularly television journalism – has become a focus on the sound bytes and spin," he said. "What we're dedicated to focusing on is news that really matters.
For his part, Cuban stressed that the alliance with Rather was not simply to bring notoriety to his up-and-coming channel, or make money by latching onto newfangled digital media applications with news programming, but to put together a respectable news program.
"We've got such a bad case of Internet and broadband-it is where everyone thinks the Internet is the cure and we've forgotten about what journalism is about and it is to tell the story," Cuban said.
Rather said he was exclusive to HD for the sort of reporting he will be doing for the show and that HD Net was his first priority now, but allowed that he was "very interested" in broadband applications and would like to take on other projects if he could.
Industry speculation about where the notoriously dedicated newsman would channel his devotion to the field after he left CBS earlier this summer before his contract was due to expire in November.
After 24 years leading the CBS Evening News, Rather stepped down as anchor in March 2005 after a 60 Minutes II piece he did about the President's National Guard service was discredited.
Repeatedly invoking the work of Edward R. Murrow (Mark Cuban was one of the executive producers of the highly acclaimed theatrical release Good Night, and Good Luck, which told Murrow's story) Rather responded to questioning about whether he is biased, Rather slammed reporters who bow to public pressure to report news one way or another, saying he is "prejudiced toward reporters who want to do the right thing."
Downplaying his professional accomplishments thus far, Rather told the critics he didn't feel he had anything to prove at this stage in his career.
"Sometimes you're not the best judge of what motivates yourself," he said. Mark thinks I have something to prove. Perhaps I do, but I don't feel that way. What I feel is that I want to do work that matters. I want to do great work and if my health and Mark's money holds out, maybe I can give that a chance."