Dan Rather fought his critics up until the last seconds of his final broadcast.
Rather ended his final broadcast at the “CBS Evening News” on Wednesday with the message he was once ridiculed for offering: “courage.”
The 73-year-old has covered a wide array of stories in more than 40 years at CBS, from the Kennedy assassination to the tsunami, and was the network’s most visible face for the past 24 years. He replaced Walter Cronkite on the evening news on March 9, 1981.
Bob Schieffer is Rather’s temporary replacement starting Thursday. CBS is currently conducting a search to find a permanent replacement with an announcement to come in the next 2-3 months.
Rather is the second high profile news anchor to retire in recent months, following in Tom Brokow’s steps after he retired from NBC in December.
Rather did not mention his situation for the first 20 minutes of the broadcast Wednesday night, preferring to concentrate solely on the news.
Rather then introduced a segment looking back at his career, including footage from the 9/11 attacks that Rather called the most important moment of his career.
He thanked viewers at the end of Wednesday’s newscast, then mentioned Sept. 11 survivors, tsunami survivors, the American military, the oppressed, the sick and fellow journalists in dangerous places.
“And, to each of you,” he said. “Courage.”
He seemed to pause on each word of his sign-off: “For the `CBS Evening News,’ Dan Rather reporting. Good night.”
The term courage was a nod to a week in 1986 when Rather decided to end each broadcast by saying courage. He gave it up after being mocked for it, and the incident began a long list of strange and bizarre moments in Rather’s career.
Its use two decades later seemed almost like a counterpunch for a man who has taken some hits recently: weak third-place showings in the rankings, criticism from predecessor Cronkite and the exultation of critics who have long accused him of a bias against Republicans. He also drew much of the blame for last fall’s discredited story about President Bush’s military service.
Rather addressed some of these problems during Wednesday’s prime-time look back on his career.
“One way a reporter in this country should be judged is how often, how well he or she stands up to the pressure to intimidate,” he said. “Be respectful, be polite, but ask the question. Just ask the damn question. What kind of reporter are you if you don’t press the question?”
Rather wants to be remembered most as a reporter, not the news anchor.
He said he’s not retiring, but changing jobs. He will still report for 60 Minutes.
“I have my weaknesses,” he said in the prime-time special. “I’ve made my mistakes. But the one mistake I’ve tried hard not to make is to say, OK, I know which way the wind is blowing and I’m going to tilt my reporting to fit that.
“Ain’t gonna do it,” he said. “Haven’t. Don’t. Won’t.”
Both Peter Jennings and Brian Williams paid tribute to Rather at the end of their broadcasts. Williams called him a “very tough competitor” and a friend of nearly 20 years.
On “World News Tonight,” Jennings noted the recent controversy and said ABC took no pleasure in the pain it caused its rival.
“For many of us, being a reporter turned out to be a calling,” Jennings said. “It is an identity for Dan. He would be the first to reflect as all serious reporters do that this opportunity to work on behalf of the public interest has been an unusual privilege.
“Dan and I are also friends,” he said. “It goes without saying that we wish him nothing but the best.”
When the lights went down at CBS’ broadcast center on Manhattan’s West Side, CBS News President Andrew Heyward and correspondents Ed Bradley, Vicky Mabrey, Jim Axelrod and Rita Braver offered toasts, a spokeswoman said.