Dan Rather may soon have company as anchor of 'CBS Evening News'

February 13, 1991|By Cox News Service

Is Dan Rather on his way out as anchor of "The CBS Evening News"? Highly regarded sources such as the Wall Street Journal, New York's Newsday, the Los Angeles Times and several anonymous network employees seem to think so. At the very least, Mr. Rather appears to be on his way out as solo anchor.

Connie Chung, whose interview specials "Face to Face" are popular among viewers, is believed to be the most likely candidate for a co-anchor, although "Face the Nation's" Lesley Stahl is also believed to be in the running.

If Mr. Rather is dumped altogether, which seems less likely because the 59-year-old anchor has two years to go on an expensive $3 million a year contract, there is no clear successor. CBS News has been a one-man show since Mr. Rather took over for Walter Cronkite in March 1981. If management decides to pair him with a co-anchor, Mr. Rather's contract stipulates that he must approve the choice.

CBS refuses to comment on these speculations, but insiders insist the changes will come, possibly as soon as next month.

The network's coverage of the Persian Gulf war has taken a beating, in part because of budget cutbacks and a series of embarrassing technical failures in the early going, but also because of Mr. Rather's performance. All the networks had trouble getting their signals out of Baghdad the first night of bombing, but CBS was the last to get things going. While CNN and others were showing aerial explosions, Mr. Rather was telling viewers the bombing reports were unconfirmed.

The name of the game, of course, is ratings. CBS has slipped to thirdplace, behind first-place ABC and second-place NBC, since the war began. And in the first few days of hostilities, CBS finished fourth, behind CNN, which is seen only in the 61 percent of the country wired for cable.

Mr. Rather's tense demeanor and awkward use of folksy sayings have been criticized over the years. And his image was further damaged a few years ago when he walked off the set when the U.S. Open tennis tournament ran into the scheduled time for the evening news.

A tough and tireless reporter, Mr. Rather has never seemed comfortable as an anchor. He's tried wearing sweaters, sitting and standing to deliver the news and using a closing salute ("Courage") to soften his image. Nothing worked. Whether or not a co-anchor will do the trick remains to be seen.

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