On Sunday (April 28), disgraced former CBS News anchor Dan Rather will return to the network that fired him nearly two decades ago for an interview about his life and career in news media. Let’s take a moment to appreciate the gradual rise and sudden downfall of one of the greatest news anchors of all time. 

Who Is Dan Rather?

Dan Rather is a 92-year-old journalist, reporter, and news anchor who began his career in the 1950s. During this time, he worked as a reporter for numerous local outlets, including the Associated Press, United Press, Houston Chronicle, KTRK-TV (ABC), and KHOU-TV (CBS).

Source: Wikimedia/Moody College of Communication

He started gaining national attention in 1961 when he reported on Hurricane Carla for CBS affiliate KHOU-TV. He not only showed the first radar image of a hurricane to air on television but also helped evacuate more than 350,000 people from the area. 

1960s: Rise To Success With CBS News

Rather was in Dallas when JFK was assassinated in 1963. While he didn’t witness the incident, he was nearby and was reportedly one of the first people to view the video of JFK getting shot. He went on to report several other findings following the assassination. 

Source: Wikimedia/Victor Hugo King

CBS News management applauded his reporting of JFK’s assassination and decided to hire him as their White House correspondent in 1964. He served in this role during Lyndon B. Johnson’s term and Richard Nixon’s term. 

1970s: Earns Position As Anchor

By 1970, Rather was one of CBS News’ most prized possessions. They promoted him to anchor of CBS Sunday Night News in 1970, and also served as anchor of CBS Saturday Evening News between 1974 and 1976. 

Source: Wikimedia/Nixon White House Photographs

Rather found himself covering the Watergate scandal and the subsequent impeachment proceedings against Richard Nixon in Congress. He also became a correspondent of the popular 60 Minutes program in 1975 – where he continued to impress executives. 

1981: Anchor Of ‘CBS Evening News’ 

Walter Cronkite, who served as anchor of CBS Evening News for 19 years, retired in 1981 – paving the way for Rather to slide in as his replacement. Rather’s first broadcast was on March 9, 1981, and his name quickly became synonymous with the longtime program. 

Source: Wikimedia/Moody College of Communication

He went on to serve as anchor for 24 years – five years longer than his predecessor. He ended his broadcasts by saying, ‘That’s part of our world tonight,’ a tradition that lasted more than two decades. Unfortunately, all good things eventually come to an end. 

1988: The First ‘Rathergate’ 

Rather masterfully covered the Iran-Contra affair in the early 1980s but had his first major hiccup with CBS News in 1988. On June 2, he hosted a special titled The Wall Within, in which he interviewed a group of Vietnam War veterans. 

Source: Wikimedia/NRKbeta

The veterans described some of the horrors they witnessed and how it impacted their lives. But 15 years later, a National Review report found that only one of the men actually served, and they had each lied about their experiences. The article called it ‘The First Rathergate.’ 

1990: Interview With Saddam Hussein

Of course, nobody knew it at the time, and Rather continued to make a name for himself at CBS News. On August 29, 1990, he secured an interview with then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. In the interview, Rather brought up how Americans were concerned of a potential war. 

Source: Wikimedia/Iraqi News Agency

“I believe the Americans’ concern is correct and legitimate,” Saddam said. “The Iraqis, like the Americans, do not want war. Therefore, in the name of the lraqis, I say that I do not want war. What Mr. Bush needs to do is tell the Americans that he does not want war. Then, war will not take place.”

2003: The Hussein-Bush Debate That Never Happened

In February 2003, Rather secured yet another interview with Hussein – it came just a few months after British politician Tony Benn’s interview with the Iraqi leader. It also came just one month before the United States’ invasion of Iraq. 

Source: Wikimedia/SSGT D. MYLES CULLEN, USAF

In the interview, Hussein proposed a debate between him and then-President George W. Bush – and even invited Rather to be the moderator. The debate never happened, and Hussein was executed by the Iraqi government for crimes against humanity.

2004: The ‘Rathergate’ That Ended It All

In September 2004, Rather came under scrutiny when he reported on a series of memos from Lt. Col. Jerry B. Killian that were critical of then-President Bush’s time in the National Guard. The report was an attempt to make Bush look bad before the 2004 election. 

Source: Wikimedia/Records of the White House Photo Office

The only problem is the documents were forged, and the authenticity was quickly put into question. Rather initially defended the story, but then retracted the story and admitted they weren’t authenticated prior to reporting on them.

2005: Rather Steps Down As Anchor

The downfall was dubbed ‘Rathergate’ (or ‘Memogate’), and it spelled the beginning of the end of Rather’s time at CBS News. He stepped down as anchor of CBS Evening News in 2005 after 24 years in the role – his last broadcast was on March 9, 2005.

Source: Flickr/Yuan2003

“We’ve shared a lot in the 24 years we’ve been meeting here each evening, and before I say “Good night” this night, I need to say thank you,” he said at the end of his farewell newscast. “And a deeply felt thanks to all of you, who have let us into your homes night after night.”

2006: CBS News Fires Rather

Rather remained with CBS News in a limited role after stepping down as anchor. By June 2006, reports surfaced that the network was unlikely to pick up his contract. On June 20, 2006, the legendary newsman was fired and told there was no future for him at CBS News.

Source: Flickr/Kansas City Public Library

“I leave CBS News with tremendous memories. But I leave now most of all with the desire to once again do regular, meaningful reporting,” he said in a statement at the time. “So I will do the work I love elsewhere, and I look forward to sharing details about that soon.”

2015: Subject Of Film ‘Truth’

Rather’s downfall with CBS News was the subject of the 2015 film Truth, written and directed by James Vanderbilt – his directorial debut. It tells the story of the Killian documents and how it led to the firing of both Rather and former CBS News producer Mary Mapes.

Source: Flickr/Apollo Alliance

Robert Redford portrayed Rather in the film, while Mapes was played by Cate Blanchett. The film premiered at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival and debuted in the United States in October 2016. 

2021: Talks About Misinformation

Despite his rapid downfall in the early 2000s, Dan Rather has remained an integral part in news media over the past two decades and has regularly appeared on left-wing and anti-Trump media outlets as one of Trump’s harshest critics. 

Source: Flickr/Nrkbeta

In 2021, he warned that ‘misinformation, outright lies, propaganda, all of this gets loose on the internet’ during a PBS NewsHour Weekend production about the effect misinformation has on society today. 

2024: Subject Of Documentary ‘Rather’

That brings us to the present day. The legendary anchor will be interviewed by CBS News’ Lee Cowan on Sunday (April 28) to talk ‘about his work at CBS and his life in news.’ It’s his official, yet temporary, return to the network. 

Source: Wikimedia/Gregory Williams

Rather is set to celebrate his 93rd birthday in October, but he’s still proving to be an integral part of the media today and will forever be remembered as one of the greatest reporters and anchors of our time.