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CBS plans tribute to Dan Rather

Prime-time tribute will honor retiring anchor
/ Source: The Associated Press

CBS will televise a one-hour prime-time tribute to Dan Rather the night he leaves the evening news anchor chair, and its producer says it won’t avoid the story that has clouded his final days on the job.

“Dan Rather: A Reporter Remembers” will air 8 p.m. ET on March 9, an hour after he anchors his final evening newscast after 24 years, the network announced Thursday.

Rather, 73, will talk about last fall’s ill-fated “60 Minutes Wednesday” story about President Bush’s military service, said Susan Zirinsky, the show’s executive producer. CBS fired the story’s producer and asked for the resignations of three executives because it could not authenticate documents used in the story.

“We’re not going to shy away from dealing with his issues,” Zirinsky said. “We’ll deal with them and so will he. It’s going to be a full picture.”

The memoir will look back on the stories Rather has covered in a CBS News career that began in 1962. He’s been on the scene for big stories from the Kennedy assassination to the Iraqi elections last month.

Despite 24 years as the evening news anchorman, Rather has always considered himself a reporter first and foremost, Zirinsky said. Not remaining deskbound is one of his proudest legacies, she said.

“The real job to him — and that’s what will come through in this — is in the field,” she said. “He loves to be eyeball to eyeball. He needs to see it, feel it, hear it, taste it.”

Producers have found some remarkable footage, she said.

While reporting in Vietnam in 1965, Rather helped carry a wounded soldier to a helicopter and held a tourniquet to stop his bleeding — but the footage was never aired at his request.

Although Rather has been a favorite target of conservatives since his days going toe-to-toe with President Nixon, he’s been an equal opportunity questioner, Zirinsky said.

“I think what this will show is the breadth of a man and his commitment to truth,” she said.

Starting Feb. 28, the “CBS Evening News” will air an eight-part series in which Rather looks back at the most significant stories he’s covered.

NBC offered Tom Brokaw a two-hour prime-time send-off when he stepped down as “Nightly News” anchorman last year. But Brokaw went out on a wave of good will, on top of the ratings, while Rather’s show is a distant third and executives are mulling a dramatic revamp. Bob Schieffer will temporarily replace Rather starting March 10.

And the fallout from the Guard story continues to linger: the three executives asked to resign on Jan. 10 have yet to do so, with either a legal settlement or court fight looming. CBS would not comment on their status.

Rather is not retiring. He intends to keep reporting for “60 Minutes Wednesday,” although there’s some question whether the newsmagazine spinoff will continue beyond this season.

“I took on this piece because I wanted people to understand the breadth of his career,” Zirinksy said. “This is not a last chapter. He’s moving forward. The way to get over whatever discomfort he has felt because of this story is to keep moving.”