DAN RATHER' S final broadcast as anchor for the CBS Evening News on Wednesday was preceded by a number of articles that put his career, as a March 5 story in The Sun said, "in a harsh light." When longtime colleagues - Walter Cronkite, Mike Wallace, Don Hewitt and former Sun reporter Tom Fenton - criticize your work and even say they preferred the competitions', the judgments are indeed "harsh."
Rather, who had a remarkable reporting career, from the assassination of John F. Kennedy to the Watergate scandal to Abu Ghraib, has been getting hammered from all sides.
Many reporters and producers at CBS believe the discredited 60 Minutes broadcast - which reported on Sept. 8 that President Bush had received preferential treatment during his service in the Air National Guard - has damaged the credibility of the entire news division.
Critics of the mainstream media's so-called liberal bias see Rather as the embodiment of partisan reporting.
Other news organizations also were angered by the blow to the profession's integrity. In some instances, newspapers compared Rather's mistakes to the transgressions of Jayson Blair at The New York Times and Jack Kelley of USA Today.
Another factor in Rather's departure is less obvious: the decline in influence and viewership of the CBS Evening News and of network evening news shows in general. Once the most powerful broadcast institutions, they have lost their central role in how most Americans get their news and information.
A producer who has worked for both network news and news magazines said: "I think more and more of the people who work for the networks are not even watching it regularly. There is a sense it is not essential anymore. Dan Rather is catching the heat for that, too."
Rather agreed to step down as anchor before an independent panel that investigated the National Guard story for CBS produced its report. The report, released Jan. 10, was highly critical of CBS, citing numerous procedural errors in preparing the broadcast and its "rigid and blind" defense of the story after serious questions had been raised about the legitimacy of the source documents.
The initial defense of the story, which was led by Rather, is at the heart of CBS staffers' resentment.
"The rule of thumb is that the correspondent gets the awards and the producer walks the plank," said veteran reporter/producer Lowell Bergman, now a reporter for The New York Times. "But in this case, Rather could have fallen on his sword by resigning right then. It would have helped some of the producers, who were opposed to the `stonewall' defense right after the broadcast, keep their jobs. But he didn't do that."
A CBS News producer was fired and three others involved in the broadcast resigned. Rather will become a full-time reporter for 60 Minutes.
The panel also reported that the Bush Air National Guard story was not the result of political bias. But Rather's reporting has long been accused of having a liberal slant, especially by the Web site RatherBiased. com.
"I disagree with everyone who says he exhibits liberal bias in his reporting," said former newspaper editor and reporter Hal Willard about Rather. "After reviewing RatherBiased.com, I found a lot of opinion expressed in speeches but none in broadcasts. I have listened to him every night for many years and have discerned no bias."
Much of the animus directed at Rather seems more about him personally than as a journalist. Reader Charles Sussman said The Sun's story on Wednesday (which previewed CBS' one-hour retrospective of Rather's career) was unfair. "This story did not give enough space to all the good things he has done in his career. There was too much emphasis on the Bush story."
Rather's 42-year career in television has successes:
He was the first reporter in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, to confirm that President John F. Kennedy had died.
He won two Emmys for tough and aggressive reporting on the Watergate scandal.
He showed great personal courage while covering the aftermath of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1980.
Along with producer Mary Mapes, Rather uncovered the abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison in 2004.
There were also controversies:
As a White House correspondent in 1974, Rather answered a question from President Richard Nixon - "Are you running for something?" - with, "No, sir, Mr. President. Are you?" It caused a national firestorm.
In 1985, he began ending the CBS Evening News with one word, "Courage." This was roundly derided as an affectation, and he dropped the practice soon after. But he ended his last broadcast, Wednesday, with the word.
In a fit of anger, after a 1987 U.S. Open tennis match ran into the Evening News' time, he walked off the set, leaving six minutes of dead air time.
Dan Rather made mistakes. His mistakes, however, were not remotely in the same league as those of Blair and Kelley. He deserved a more magnanimous sendoff after 24 years as anchor of the CBS Evening News.
Paul Moore's column appears on Sundays.