Rather exits with a poke in the Eye

Anchor critical upon departure from CBS

CBS gave Dan Rather his official sendoff with a glowing testimonial on Tuesday, but Rather let it be known that the break was far from amicable.

A day after finalizing a deal for Rather to leave the network following his 44-year tenure, the Eye issued a statement that placed Rather among the greats of his profession and included a segment on the “Evening News” that looked back on his storied career.

“Of all the famous names associated with CBS News, the biggest and the brightest on the marquee are Murrow, Cronkite and Rather,” CBS News and Sports president Sean McManus said. “With the utmost respect, we mark the extraordinary and singular role Dan has played in writing the script of not only CBS News, but of broadcast journalism.”

But the “Evening News” segment on Rather also included mention of the “60 Minutes II” piece on President George Bush’s National Guard service that led to Rather’s stepping down as anchor in 2005. CBS correspondent Anthony Mason reported that Rather “became the center of his own scandal” and explained that Rather “could not come to terms with CBS on new assignments.”

Rather, who declined to participate in a joint statement with the network or to be interviewed in the piece, made it clear the break was not his choice.

“My departure before the term of my contract represents CBS’ final acknowledgement, after a protracted struggle, that they have not lived up to their obligation to allow me to do substantive work there,” he said.

“As for their offers of a future with only an office but no assignments, it just isn’t me to sit around doing nothing,” he said. “So I will do the work that I love elsewhere, and I look forward to sharing details about that soon.”

The dueling statements and retrospective cap weeks of behind-the-scenes negotiations between Rather and CBS over his future at the network, which Rather had hoped would include continuing as a full-time correspondent for “60 Minutes.”

Rather’s contract was to have ended in November, but CBS News made it clear that his opportunity would be limited as the net added Katie Couric and Anderson Cooper to an already crowded cast on the magazine show.

Insiders said the network was eager to have Rather out before the start of the fall TV season, when the net hopes to focus attention on Couric, who takes the reins of the “Evening News.”

Rather’s departure is an uncomfortable one for CBS News, where he is a much-loved figure among colleagues, who believe the iconic newsman deserved better.

NBC “Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams was also critical of CBS’ handling of Rather.

“Many of us believe he long ago earned the right — through hard work, long hours and risk to his own life — for his tenure at the network he loved so passionately to come to a better end than this,” Williams wrote in his blog, the Daily Nightly.

But, as Rather said to his staff on his last day as anchor, “One door closes and another door opens.”

He has reportedly been in talks with Mark Cuban to do documentaries for HDNet.

Cuban has been open about his effort to court Rather, including a blog entry Tuesday: “You may think you know what Dan Rather and HDNet will do together. But you don’t. You have no idea. I will tell you that there won’t be any corporate considerations. No earnings per share issues. No worries about advertisers and what they might think.”

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