Rather Promotes HDNet Show, Defends CBS Tenure

Jul 11, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Former CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather took to the stage with HDNet owner Mark Cuban Tuesday at the Television Critics Association Press Tour to say he hopes his new weekly, hour-long news program begins “a renaissance of investigative reporting.”

Mr. Cuban has made a three-year commitment to the series, “Dan Rather Reports,” which will include field reports, investigative news and interviews.

Mr. Rather, speaking at the event in Pasadena, Calif., said he was confident Mr. Cuban, whose network has about 3 million subscribers, would supply enough financial support to make the program journalistically competitive.

“We’ll have what we need,” Mr. Rather said. “Mark has said that. I believe it. I have no doubt about it.”

A supporting news and production team has not yet been announced for the program, which will be based in New York.

Critic questions quickly shifted from details about the new program to Mr. Rather’s reportedly contentious relationship with CBS and his reputation with viewers in the wake of his discredited 2005 story on President Bush’s military service.

Mr. Rather was careful to not directly criticize his former employer and focused his responses on his new job, saying he’s excited about having more freedom to pursue investigative stories.

“CBS is a large organization, with a chain of command that looks like the wiring of a nuclear plant,” Mr. Rather said. “The difference is the chain of command [at HDNet] begins and ends with me. Don’t make that sound like a self-serving thing … it’s having the ultimate responsibility.”

After the story on President Bush’s military service, conservative critics accused Mr. Rather of having a liberal bias. When a critic asked if Mr. Rather comes with any “baggage,” the veteran newsman launched into a passionate defense.

“Yes, I have baggage,” he said. “I have the baggage of the being a journalism graduate of the University of South Vietnam. I have the baggage of the Civil Rights era. I have baggage of the Watergate era … you bet your life I got a lot of baggage, and I’m proud of it. I have a lot of very strong bias toward independent journalism.

“Some of what you describe as baggage comes from people who have the following view: ‘Listen Mister, you report the news the way I want it reported or you will pay a price … or I will amount a sizeable smear campaign against you’ … I’m not going to be bullied. News, news at its best is a wake-up call, not a lullaby. I’m not in the lullaby business.”

Mr. Cuban promised he’d protect Mr. Rather’s news show from potential pressure from advertisers.

“I don’t care about shares, I don’t care about advertisers,” Mr. Cuban said. “If an advertiser says, ‘I don’t like what you aired,’ I’m gonna say ‘goodbye’ to the advertiser. Now that’s easy to say because I don’t have $50 million-dollar advertisers. But you know what? I’m gonna eat no matter what.”