Sunday, November 30, 2003

Dogged Dan on Affiliate-Support Tour

At 72, Dan Rather, who isn't yet ready to yield his anchor chair -takes it to the people like a politician looking for their vote.
At 72, Mr. Rather is eight years older than Walter Cronkite was when he left the CBS anchor desk, and nine years older than Mr. Brokaw is now. Though his hold on one of the most prominent jobs in journalism remains safe for the immediate future, the phone call that Mr. Rather so obviously dreads — the one telling him it is time to step aside — could well come next year, several people inside the network say. In the meantime, Mr. Rather continues to work tirelessly to stave off the inevitable changing of the guard among the network news anchors.

In the last 12 months, among visits to nearly a dozen CBS-owned stations and affiliates, like the trip to KTVT in Dallas on Nov. 21, he has shuttled repeatedly to the Middle East on assignment (five trips to Iraq alone) and filed more than two dozen reports for his second job, on "60 Minutes II."

He worked his contacts skillfully to land an interview with Saddam Hussein preceding the war in Iraq, becoming the only United States journalist to do so. Now, he is pursuing an audience with an equally elusive quarry, Kim Jong Il, the reclusive leader of North Korea.


In the bottom-line calculus of television news — ratings and profits — the answer is not particularly encouraging. Mr. Rather's newscast is not just third, but a distant third. For example, for the week of Nov. 17, Mr. Rather drew an average of 8.1 million viewers nightly, according to Nielsen Media Research. Mr. Brokaw drew 11 million viewers and Mr. Jennings 10.5 million.

Despite his whirlwind of activity, Mr. Rather understands that his future — at least in American living rooms every weekday evening — is ultimately out of his hands, and instead in those of Andrew Heyward, the president of CBS News. "I have no illusions," Mr. Rather said. "The second he thinks there's somebody who can do it better, I'll be out of there, and I ought to be."

Mr. Heyward, a former executive producer of "The Evening News" who first worked with Mr. Rather more than two decades ago, said he did not want to comment on the future.

"We have announced no timetable for a transition," Mr Heyward said in an interview. "When that day comes, and we're not speculating on when that will be, I'm confident Dan and I will work on that together."

"Dan is going to be at CBS News for many years to come," he said. "No matter what, he would make a transition to some combination of `60 Minutes' and `60 Minutes II.' "

For all the emotions in play, including the contention by some on the right that Mr. Rather is too liberal, any move to replace him could ultimately be a business decision, aimed at capturing more viewers in the 25- to 54-year-old demographic. (Each of the network broadcasts is still estimated to generate $100 million or more in annual advertising revenue.)
[my emphasis]

Yes, in this day, we want to ensure if there's any bias, that it is in the 'right' direction. Check out the accompanying photo - did Dan bleach his hair?


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