Starting tomorrow, the anchor of the CBS Evening News will be a Texan with a twinkle in his eye, eligibility for AARP membership, and a friend in the Bush administration.
That would be interim anchor Bob Schieffer, CBS' chief Washington correspondent, whose brother Tom is the U.S. ambassador to Japan. Bob Schieffer is well liked inside the network and is generally considered evenhanded and sharp by outside observers.
Extended interviews with three interested observers:
Listen: Andrew Heyward, president of CBS News
Listen: Walter Cronkite, former CBS anchorman
Listen: Brian Williams, anchor of 'NBC Nightly News'
So, at least for now, that's how CBS News is replacing Dan Rather: with a decidedly familiar feel.
(An aside: Say what you will about CBS and coastal media elites, but the network has boasted real Texans over the years. Little known fun fact: Dan Rather's given name is Dan. Bob Schieffer's is Bob. And former CBS commentator Bill Moyers had the given name Billy Don. You could look it up.)
Rather's predecessor, Walter Cronkite, recently told CNN that CBS should have put Schieffer in the job years ago. In an interview with NPR, Cronkite said Rather was "a very good reporter and a good anchorman" who came off as a "showboat" to many viewers.
Cronkite said Rather failed himself and the network by initially refusing to review his botched story on President Bush's military service record. Instead, with "a certain arrogance," Rather dismissed growing criticism and defended his colleagues on the piece, Cronkite said.
In recent months, CBS News President Andrew Heyward has been largely mum about Rather's story for 60 Minutes Wednesday, which the network had to retract. CBS allowed an independent report to serve as its formal comment. The report blamed many of the executives under Heyward for lapses. Three of those news executives were ordered to resign, although one has as yet refused to do so. Producer Mary Mapes was fired.
So Heyward hasn't talked much, if at all, publicly about that story and its aftermath. But he did in a recent interview with NPR about Rather's career.
In the interview, Heyward said the network had taken painful but necessary steps and that he missed those CBS News executives who had been forced out. And he answered the question David Letterman recently posed to Rather on the CBS Late Show – Why hadn't Heyward taken responsibility and resigned?
"Obviously, people are entitled to their opinion about that," Heyward said. "But you know, if I thought that were appropriate, or would serve the institution, I would have done it."
Heyward also offered a taste of what the next version of the CBS Evening News will look like once it leaves aside the model established by Cronkite.
"The single dominant anchor will give way to a more pluralistic model, which I think is more in tune with how people get their information nowadays," he said. "What's fundamentally different is the idea of stripping away some of the mystique in the name of authenticity."
Heyward says he's looking to attract younger viewers for the CBS Evening News — "I'm talking about not twentysomethings, but fortysomethings."
But Rather had been a defining and controversial force at the network. The model Heyward is starting to outline may also serve to ensure that no one person at the network can become so polarizing.
In the meantime, the network is working to get beyond the age of Rather with a Texan who has a truly folksy touch.