Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Dan Rather memoir quest for redemption
American military legend Douglas MacArthur coined the phrase "Old soldiers never die, they just fade away." The same can be said for high-profile TV newsmen like Dan Rather, who will be 81 in October.
This is his seventh book, and it's an interesting mix of personal memoir and a quest for redemption. In 1981, he took over from Walter Cronkite as anchor and managing editor of the CBS Evening News. Twenty-four years later he left that post in a sea of controversy.
The first two chapters deal with the investigative report Rather headed that showed that George W. Bush had a less than stellar military career as a member of the Texas National Guard in the early 1970s. Rather's team was eventually vindicated, but when the story first appeared it could not be completely verified.
Rather left the anchor chair, and the way he tells it, he was kept on the CBS payroll and given nothing to do. He ended up suing his former employer for $70 million, but he dropped the suit before a settlement was reached or a judgment rendered.
He deals with the lawsuit and his subsequent career with a cable network owned by Texas billionaire Mark Cuban in the last two chapters. In between is everything else, including the story of his childhood in Houston, which was marked by a serious battle with rheumatic fever that kept him in bed for more than a year.
He discovered journalism as a student at Sam Houston State Teachers College. He also found romance there with a woman, Jean Goebel, to whom he's now been married for more than 55 years.
Throughout his career, Rather has been known for his homespun expressions, such as the words he used to describe his future bride when they first met:
"The spark was there right from the beginning - bingo bombshell holy smoke. She had a figure that would make a bishop kick out a stained glass window -- leggy, chesty, tiny waist, winning smile and sparkling eyes."
Readers who are not news junkies might find themselves craving more of that kind of humour, but some of the other light moments in Rather's memoir are strangely placed. For example, amid his recollection of anchoring during the horror of 9/11, he talks about his ability to speak to the camera while receiving instructions through two different earpieces.
"It's as easy as simultaneously rubbing your stomach and patting the top of your head -- while also singing the second verse of The Star Spangled Banner, hopping on one foot and juggling two raw eggs and a cantaloupe. Piece of cake."
His recollections are non-linear. We jump from 9/11, all the way back to his first days reporting from Vietnam in the mid-1960s. Rather went after all the big stories over the years, and his competitive drive resulted in him being assigned to most of them.
Again and again, as he recalls these big events, it seems to be all about Dan Rather's role, not the events and their historic significance. On the Watergate story in 1974, he barely acknowledges that Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post were the leaders in reporting major new developments.
Throughout the book, but especially toward the end, Rather reflects on the tremendous changes that the rise of the Internet and social media have brought about for all mainstream media. He says he is proud to have begun his career at CBS in the company of many of the greats, such as Walter Cronkite.
The folks running the store when Rather left the network after 44 years had values that were vastly different.
Roger Currie is a Winnipeg writer and broadcaster.
My Life in the News
By Dan Rather with Digby Diehl
Grand Central, 309 pages, $30
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 23, 2012 J7
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