As Rather Departs, Collateral Damage at CBS Dan Rather leaves CBS News not with a scoop, but a whisper. The colorful and urgent reporter anchored CBS Evening News longer than anyone else -- but a 2004 story he reported missed its target and generated plenty of casualties.
NPR logo As Rather Departs, Collateral Damage at CBS

As Rather Departs, Collateral Damage at CBS

So Dan Rather, the colorful and urgent reporter who anchored the CBS Evening News longer than anyone else, leaves not with a scoop, but a whisper.

In September 2004, Rather presented a story on 60 Minutes Wednesday that promised to make a splash. He suggested the network had obtained documentary proof President Bush received preferential treatment during his stint in the National Guard.

But the documents that Rather relied on -- and later defended on the CBS Evening News -- could not be authenticated.

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So the story missed its target. But it generated plenty of casualties.

Andrew Heyward was the president of CBS News at the time of the Sept. 8 broadcast. Although Rather said he asked Heyward to ensure the quality of the reporting behind the story -- Rather was away covering a hurricane in the days before the report -- Heyward was not immediately punished in the fallout. He left his position in November 2005, without having selected a permanent replacement for Rather on the CBS Evening News.

Betsy West was the senior vice president for prime-time programming for CBS News. She was forced to resign. West says she is currently developing a film with her husband, Oren Jacoby, based on the book Constantine's Sword by James Carroll.

Josh Howard was executive producer of 60 Minutes Wednesday. He was forced to resign. In December 2005, he became a vice president for long-form programming at the financial news channel CNBC.

Mary Murphy was Howard's deputy as the show’s senior broadcast producer. She was forced to resign. She is now an independent producer in New York City, shooting a documentary about To Kill a Mockingbird.

Mary Mapes was the story's lead producer. She was a Peabody award-winner whose work helped CBS break the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal. She had pursued leads about President Bush's military-service record since he started his run for the White House in 1999. CBS fired Mapes for the role she played in the botched story. In November 2005, St. Martin's Press published her book about the episode, Truth and Duty: The Press, the President, and the Privilege of Power.

Esther Kartiganer was the senior producer charged with ensuring the program's stories met the network's standards for fairness and accuracy. She was reassigned within CBS News and ultimately left the network.

Dan Rather was the story's lead correspondent as well as anchor and managing editor of the CBS Evening News. In November 2004, ahead of the release of what was correctly expected to be a caustic independent report about the story, Rather announced he would leave the anchor's job in March 2005. Today, he and the network reached an agreement for him to leave CBS for good -- months before his contract was due to expire. Said Rather today: "My departure before the term of my contract represents CBS's final acknowledgement, after a protracted struggle, that they had not lived up to their obligation to allow me to do substantive work there. As for their offers of a future with only an office but no assignments, it just isn't in me to sit around doing nothing. So I will do the work I love elsewhere, and I look forward to sharing details about that soon."

Dan Rather' s Career: A Look Back

Oct. 31, 1931 – Dan Irvin Rather, Jr. is born in Wharton, Texas.

1950-1953 – Attends Sam Houston State Teachers College in Huntsville, Texas and works for the Associated Press. Also attends University of Houston and the South Texas School of Law.

1953 – Graduates with a bachelor's degree in journalism from Sam Houston State Teachers College.

1954-61 – Holds various news positions at outlets including the Houston Chronicle and KTRH Radio.

September 1961 – Rather's reports on Hurricane Carla for a CBS affiliate station earn him notice at CBS News.

1962 – Rather joins CBS News as chief of its southwest bureau in Dallas.

Nov. 22, 1963 – Assigned to cover John. F. Kennedy's trip to Dallas, Texas, Rather reports on the president's assassination. Walter Cronkite announces the news on the CBS Evening News.

1960s -'70s – Rather holds various posts at CBS, including White House correspondent and anchor for CBS Weekend News. His work included reporting from Vietnam and covering the Watergate scandal, during which he had a memorable exchange with President Nixon at a 1974 news conference. Nixon asked him, "Are you running for something?" Rather replied, "No, sir, Mr. President. Are you?"

March 9, 1981 – Replaces Walter Cronkite as anchor and managing editor of the CBS Evening News

October 1986 - Rather is assaulted on a street in New York by a man who asks him repeatedly, "What's the frequency, Kenneth?" The assailant is later identified as William Tager, a mentally ill man who was convicted of murdering an NBC technician in 1994.

January 1988 – Becomes anchor of 48 Hours, which he will host until 2002. Also conducts confrontational interview with Vice President George H.W. Bush, pressing Bush on the Iran-Contra affair.

1990 – Rather interviews Saddam Hussein after Hussein's invasion of Kuwait. He gains exclusive interview access again in 2003.

1999 – Becomes correspondent for 60 Minutes II.

April 28, 2004 - Rather's 60 Minutes II report reveals abuses at the U.S. military’s Abu Ghraib prison, breaking the story.

Sept. 8, 2004 – A 60 Minutes II report questioning President George W. Bush’s Air National Guard service airs. Later that month, Rather says he can no longer vouch for documents on which the story was based and apologizes for "a mistake in judgment."

Nov. 23, 2004 – Rather announces his retirement as anchor of CBS Evening News. He anchors his final show on March 9 of the following year.

June 20, 2006 – CBS News and Sports President Sean McManus announces Rather will leave CBS.

Sources: Associated Press, CBS, NPR and Poynter.org