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Anchor Says Goodbye to 'CBS Evening News'
'And, to Each of You, Courage,' Rather Said in His Final Program
By DAVID BAUDER, AP
Dan Rather anchors his last 'CBS Evening News' show, exactly 24 years since his first day on the job.
NEW YORK (March 10) - To the end of his career as CBS News anchor, Dan Rather stared down his critics.
Rather ended his final broadcast at the ''CBS Evening News'' on Wednesday with the message he was once ridiculed for offering: ''courage.''
The 73-year-old Texan has covered a breathtaking array of stories in more than 40 years at CBS, from the Kennedy assassination to the tsunami, and was the network's most visible face for the past 24 years. He replaced Walter Cronkite on the evening news on March 9, 1981.
Bob Schieffer is Rather's temporary replacement starting Thursday. CBS expects to name a permanent anchor team to succeed Rather in the coming months.
He was the second of the three men who dominated network news for more than two decades to step down in four months. NBC's Tom Brokaw exited in November, leaving ABC's Peter Jennings remaining at ''World News Tonight.''
His voice slightly hoarse, Rather was all business for the first 20 minutes of Wednesday's broadcast. He didn't mention the special day, and neither did correspondents John Roberts or Anthony Mason when they threw stories back to him.
Then Rather looked back on what he called the most important story of his career - the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He opened the news that evening by saying, ''you will remember this day as long as you live.''
He thanked viewers at the end of Wednesday's newscast, then mentioned Sept. 11 survivors, tsunami survivors, the American military, the oppressed, the sick and fellow journalists in dangerous places.
''And, to each of you,'' he said. ''Courage.''
He seemed to savor each word of his signoff: ''For the 'CBS Evening News,' Dan Rather reporting. Good night.''
For a week in September 1986, Rather ended the news with the word ''courage.'' He gave it up after being mocked for it, and the incident joined the list of oddities that bedeviled the tightly-wound newsman throughout his career.
Its use two decades later seemed almost an act of defiance for a man who has taken some body blows recently: consistent and distant third-place showings in the rankings, public criticism from predecessor Cronkite and the exultation of critics who have long accused him of a bias against Republicans. He drew much of the public blame for last fall's discredited story about President Bush's military service.
Rather addressed some of those critics during Wednesday's prime-time look back on his career.
''One way a reporter in this country should be judged is how often, how well he or she stands up to the pressure to intimidate,'' he said. ''Be respectful, be polite, but ask the question. Just ask the damn question. What kind of reporter are you if you don't press the question?''
Rather wants most to be remembered as a reporter and, even after 24 years as anchor, never seemed to fully embrace that role.
He said he's not retiring, but changing jobs. He will be a reporter for CBS's ''60 Minutes'' broadcasts.
''I have my weaknesses,'' he said in the prime-time special. ''I've made my mistakes. But the one mistake I've tried hard not to make is to say, OK, I know which way the wind is blowing and I'm going to tilt my reporting to fit that.
''Ain't gonna do it,'' he said. ''Haven't. Don't. Won't.''
While his critics seemed to dominate the end stages of his anchor career, Rather regularly had more than 7 million viewers who watched him each night.
Marian MacNeil of Windsor, Calif., said she watched Rather regularly and admired him.
''I feel terrible the way he's being treated now,'' MacNeil said. ''I think they're smearing a good reputation and overshadowing his 50 years. I hope he's able to rise above this.''
Both Jennings and Williams paid tribute to Rather at the end of their broadcasts. Williams called him a ''very tough competitor'' and a friend of nearly 20 years.
On ''World News Tonight,'' Jennings noted the National Guard story and said ABC took no pleasure in the pain it caused its competitor.
''For many of us, being a reporter turned out to be a calling,'' Jennings said. ''It is an identity for Dan. He would be the first to reflect - as all serious reporters do - that this opportunity to work on behalf of the public interest has been an unusual privilege.
''Dan and I are also friends,'' he said. ''It goes without saying that we wish him nothing but the best.''
When the lights went down at CBS' broadcast center on Manhattan's West Side, CBS News President Andrew Heyward and correspondents Ed Bradley, Vicky Mabrey, Jim Axelrod and Rita Braver offered toasts, a spokeswoman said.
Rather drank from a glass of ''Wild Turkey'' bourbon.
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