"Lone Star: The Extraordinary
Life and Times of Dan Rather"
Alan Weisman wrote a
non-fiction book about legendary journalist Dan Rather and called
it Lone Star: The Extraordinary Life and Times of Dan Rather.
The book provides an accurate description of the highs and lows
that occurred during his career.
grew up in the small town of Wharton, Texas. The town was also the
birthplace of legendary race car drivers A.J. Foyt and Bobby Waltrip.
Rather’s childhood wasn’t an easy one. He had rheumatic
fever for five years, which limited his daily life activities. He
wasn’t able to do everything that other kids could. Doctors
weren’t sure if he was going to live a normal life.
witnessed his father’s willingness to promote diversity. While
at a political rally, his dad stood up with black politicians. Dan
looked at his father and wondered why he would do such a thing.
Ever since then, Rather has stood up for underdogs.
At a young
age, he started a one-page newsletter that became a neighborhood
bulletin board. He realized his love for journalism early on. He
majored in journalism at Sam Houston Teacher’s College. He
wrote for a small newspaper called the Huntsville Item.
very shy when he was starting out. He was actually scared to conduct
an interview. He was also unsure of himself around girls. Later,
he faced his fear and interviews became easier for him.
first broadcast job was as a sports announcer for KSAM radio. The
owner of the station asked him to call all the games and read the
basic training for the U.S. marines. Dan was disqualified because
of his rheumatic fever which would have been interference on the
his wife while he was working for the Houston Chronicle and KTRH-TV
which was owned by the newspaper at the time. He got married in
April 1957 and had a daughter the very next year.
arrived in New York City on Feb. 28, 1962. His first job was to
cover a plane crash at Kennedy Airport. He also did extensive reporting
on the Civil Rights Movement as it was unfolding at the time. He
became the first reporter to accurately announce the death of former
President John F. Kennedy.
a lot of moving around during his career. From New York, he was
sent to the Washington bureau to cover the White House. While there,
President Lyndon B. Johnson always ignored Rather during press conferences.
Dan was always writing stories against the White House and most
of them were negative. The President, LBJ asked Dan to submit more
positive stories. Then, Rather was sent to work at the London bureau
and cover the Vietnam War.
a man that wanted to work in both radio and television simultaneously.
Whenever he heard a rumor about something, he would always go with
it and report it like a story. Sometimes it worked and other times
it proved to be inaccurate. However, CBS News was the first to make
“Watergate” a national story.
journalist quickly became the face of CBS News. He interviewed numerous
top officials such as Fidel Castro and Saddam Hussein, among others.
He traveled to Afghanistan in 1980 to cover some stories.
after being named a contributor to 60 Minutes, Rather signed a contract
to become anchor of the CBS Evening News. He was going to receive
$22 million over the course of 10 years to do the job. Walter Cronkite
signed off and Dan Rather signed on. It was Feb. 18, 1980 when Rather
became the new anchor of the Evening News.
day Mr. Rather held a meeting in his partner. He was going to make
major changes to the way his newscast was operating. He wanted to
change the set, the opening, graphics and the entire look of the
show. Dan had a hand in every personnel change that was related
to his newscast. This was Dan’s time and he was starting to
take over the show.
changed the content of the CBS Evening News. He would never speak
about Senate or House hearing. Another thing that you wouldn’t
see is international news unless it directly affected Americans.
newscast was number one in Nielsen TV ratings for 200 weeks during
the 1980s decade. The Washington Journalism Review voted Dan Rather
as “Best Anchorman.”
he was trying to force Walter Cronkite out of the news cast. During
the coverage of the 1982 elections, Dan would cut off Cronkite while
he was speaking to report the latest election results.
was granted an interview with Gorbachev, the former leader of the
Soviet Union. Dan Rather didn’t allow Cronkite to proceed
with the interview. It later went to Tom Brokaw from NBC News who
conducted the interview instead.
Rather was becoming a member of the management at CBS News. When
writers at the news division went on strike, Dan joined them. The
Evening News dropped to 3rd place in ratings in 1987. He agreed
to change his on-camera deliver and that only lasted for one week.
CBS was airing coverage of a tennis match that looked like it was
going to go beyond the 6:30 p.m. start of the newscast. Dan didn’t
know if the network placed a higher priority on news or on sports.
He decided to go into the break room and grab a soft drink at exactly
the network decided to end the sports coverage and begin the Evening
News. Well, Dan was not in the anchor chair. Producers were going
crazy to try and locate Mr. Rather. For six minutes, there was dead
air across the country. All you could see was black on your TV screen.
made his way back to the anchor desk. However, network affiliates
were very upset. Walter Cronkite actually wanted Rather to be fired
because of this judgment error.
Cohen became Dan Rather’s producer. Rather was about to do
a story about the Iran-Contra scandal. The story would accuse the
U.S. and blame President George H.W. Bush of selling weapons to
Iran in exchange for U.S. hostages.
was set up between Rather and the president. Roger Ailies, Bush’s
top media expert was holding cue cards during the entire interview.
Bush Sr. refused to answer most of the questions asked by Rather.
The former president made references to the mishap in Miami.
was agreed to be done on LIVE television. It ended up being a huge
mistake for CBS. Bush Sr. could say whatever he wanted about Rather
and there was no way to edit it out. It was very unfair for Dan
1990’s, the CBS Evening News was back at the top of the ratings
chart. Iraqis had just invaded Kuwait and the Gulf War was brewing.
Rather was granted an interview with Saddam Hussein on Aug. 29,
1990. This became the first of two interviews that he conducted
with the Iraqi dictator. The interview helped to rebuild Rather’s
long thereafter until CBS landed in third place again. Meanwhile,
CNN established itself as a popular news organization during coverage
of the massacre in Tiananmen Square. CBS was highly understaffed
during coverage of the Gulf War. ABC and NBC had 100 staffers covering
the war while CNN had 130 people reporting.
joined Rather as co-anchor of the Evening News. She made her debut
on June 1, 1973. Rather treated her good on the air. But off the
air was a totally different story. You could see that he was becoming
uncomfortable with her.
Oklahoma City bombing, CBS News made a quick decision and sent Chung
to cover the event. Rather wondered why he wasn’t sent to
cover the bombing. Viewers were not happy about the coverage that
Chung provided. One month later, the network said she would no longer
co-anchor the Evening News.
Mr. Rather signed a long-term contract with CBS. He was served as
anchor of the Evening News and 48 Hours programs. He was asked to
help with the newly-created 60 Minutes II program which aired on
praised for his excellent work during 9/11. He remained on air for
55 hours from Sept. 11th until 14th. That is more time than Peter
Jennings and Tom Brokaw spent anchoring. During this time, the author
says Dan displayed his finest work. Rather was applauded for his
steady, calm, reassuring demeanor during this horrific event. This
was the last time that he, Jennings and Brokaw competed on a major
a producer for Dan Rather, was working on a story about current
President George W. Bush. The story suggested that the President
skipped National Guard duty because of his family history. No one
wanted to go on camera to provide support for this story. Documents
were provided to Mapes by a gentleman named Bill Burkett.
showed a real dislike for George W. Bush. The documents indicated
that the President refused to take a physical, a commander disapproved
of his transfer and that pressure was used to make his military
record look better. There was no guarantee that these documents
were authentic. It was seen as another way for Rather to attack
the Bush family.
lawyers actually watched the piece before it was aired. Rather stepped
in the room to watch the segment but it was already half-way completed.
Andrew Heyward, CBS News President, gave the approval for the story
after the story aired, critics were going crazy. They flooded the
internet with postings on blogs that questioned the documents. No
one wanted to step forward and take responsibility for printing
ordered Rather to issue an apology stating the documents could not
be authenticated. The leader of CBS News made a personal trip to
the White House to apologize to the President.
Mapes and three other CBS executives were fired because of this
story. Heyward was able to keep his job. Rather also remained at
CBS News. However, his credibility suffered another hit. He later
stepped down as anchor of the Evening News.
II was cancelled in May 2005. Rather thanked everyone for their
hard work and dedication. Many associates, assistants, producers
and editors were terminated.
When Hurricane Katrina hit, Dan was left out of the coverage. CBS
News decided to send other reporters to cover the damage. These
reporters made huge mistakes and acted on rumors. This is something
that Rather could have done better if he was chosen to do so.
CBS News but it wasn’t during his high point. You could say
that Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings left during their peak. Rather
left during a time of scrutiny. He late returned to his home state
the main reason for this book is to inform the public about this
legendary journalist. He was a reporter and an anchor but he also
made the news himself. Sometimes, the spotlight was focused on him.
knew that Rather was such of a demanding anchor. I always thought
of him as a calm individual. I was not aware that he was slowing
taking over the newscast one piece at a time. It’s hard to
see that when you’re on this side of the screen.
I was very
interested in this topic. Dan Rather was my favorite broadcaster
when he was on. I loved all of his jokes during the election time.
Not only did he get the point across, he was able to make one smile
during the process.
Star: The Extraordinary Life and Times of Dan Rather
By Alan Weisman
272 pp., hard cover
Wiley Publications, 2006