Dan Rather appears on "Larry King Live" tonight at 9 p.m. Eastern Time to talk about his new weekly television program on Internet entrepreneur Mark Cuban's HDNet. But if wishes were vengeance, I would love to see an exchange go something like this:
LK: Dan, we'll talk about HDNet in a moment. But first, do you have anything you would like to say about the fact that after 44 years, you are no longer at CBS News.
DR: Larry, I am so glad you asked. Larry, you have known me a long time and you know I am not a bitter man. But as to feeling resentful about the way that CBS News treated me, of course I am resentful.
LK: Can you explain why?
DR: Where do I start. For all these decades, I was one of the few journalists entrusted to be taken into the living rooms of tens of Americans every weekday evening. Americans who were hungry for real news - about foreign and domestic crises, about political scandal and intrigue, about disasters both man-made and natural. I, along with a few others- Peter, Tom, and a few - was trusted by much- not all- but much of America. Night after night.
LK: Well, you are still young at 74, Dan. So what happened?
DR: Well, a few things. CBS ousted me from the evening anchor position, and then exiled me to a low-profile news feature show where my work was metered, rationed and vetted. And then, in these tumultuous times, I was all of a sudden told there were no more stories for me to do- or precious few of them. So I didn't let the screen door hit me on the way out.
LK: But what led to this?
DR: Larry, glad you asked. Remember the story about Bush and the Alabama National Guard? It could be argued that errors in the methodology of reporting were made, but the substance of the story was never fully negated. Did President Bush report for duty at the Alabama Guard or not? I could tell that the brass' enthusiasm for us following through and doing more digging, more investigating, was certainly not high.
LK: And by "the brass," you mean?
DR: You have to understand, Larry, that the CBS I left was not the CBS I joined 44 years ago- a CBS with Walter Cronkite and before that, Murrow. Both spoke truth to power, but there is so much less of a willingness to do that now. This goes to the very top of CBS and their owner, Viacom. You see, Viacom holds key broadcast licenses, is subject to federal regulation, and is a publicly held company with a fiduciary responsibility to all those big institutional shareholders. These institutional shareholders not only want ratings and ever-growing advertising income, are not delighted when one of their holdings fights with the government- especially a governmental apparatus that licenses their key holdings and could do them harm if they want to.
LK: Talk of that happened during the Nixon administration, did it not?
DR: Yes it did, Larry, but that didn't stop CBS from being front and center during Watergate. But see, Larry, back then we didn't have focus groups, institutional investors, and owners who were either afraid to speak truth to power or were actually allied with that power.
LK: So what do you make of Katie Couric, who will be in your old anchor chair in less than two months?
DR: She has a very telegenic presence, Larry.
LK: Any bitterness?
DR: Well I don't want to sound bitter, but it seems that they went with someone who has a softer, younger edge, someone who they feel will attract the younger viewers advertisers covet.
LK: We'll be back with Dan Rather after a break.
Larry King to Dan Rather off-mike during the break: I sensed you were holding back there a bit, Dan.
Dan back to Larry: You're goddam right. I gave CBS 44 damn good years of professionalism and tireless effort. And how do they thank me? They toss me out the fuckin' door in favor of a perky journalistic lightweight best known for puffy features. All so that some goddam 27 year-olds will tune in, and start buying youthful products featured on all that new advertising they are obviously now going to get. And you know what Larry? Sumner Redstone (chairman of Viacom, which owns CBS) you are no Bill Paley. And (CBS president) Les Moonves, Sumner Redstone, fuck you both, fuck you and your youth-obsessions, your new advertisers, your focus groups- and Ms. Perky who will be your public face of the news. That is, if you still do the news rather than a bunch of lifestyle features with maybe a few minutes of real news thrown in.
Larry, still off camera: Five seconds back to air, Dan...
LK: We're back with Dan Rather, who has a new venture with HDNet, Dallas Mavericks owner and Internet multimedia pioneer Mark Cuban...