He looked pretty good sitting behind the antique partners desk in his home-office. In fact, darn good for a newsman of 86.
Dan Rather has a new weekly gig, not on ordinary television but on a YouTube feed operated by what’s called TYT, “The Young Turks” ultra-progressive talk channel.
Rather’s resume is becoming too bulky for a neat one-paragraph bio. Successor to Walter Cronkite, he was the face of CBS News for more than two decades before being ousted over his flawed reporting on President George W. Bush’s National Guard service during the Vietnam War.
Circumstances of that unfortunate period can be cast many different ways, as Rather himself made clear in a book tediously detailing his side of the story. But even before that he was a quirky journalist: a cross between Edward R. Murrow and Inspector Clouseau.
At the height of his CBS career Rather was accosted on a Manhattan street by a seemingly deranged individual demanding, “Kenneth, what’s the frequency?” The man claimed CBS was beaming signals directly into his brain. Rather was shaken; R.E.M. later made a hit song out of it.
Then there was the time in 1980 when Rather did a lengthy “60 Minutes” report on the war in Afghanistan, reporting amid gunfire from a mountain top overlooking a Soviet encampment. The Washington Post’s Tom Shales observed that Rather, dressed in peasant togs, appeared to be, “Dan Rather as Stuart Whitman playing Dan Rather. Or Dan Rather playing Stuart Whitman playing Dan Rather. Perhaps it’s all part of the New Reality.”
Shales called him “Gunga Dan.”
But much as Bernie Sanders has, late in life, captured the imagination of millennials in search of reason, Rather has become a social media star. His Facebook page has over 2 million likes, his “News and Guts” page has another million, and he pops up regularly as a cable-TV commentator.
Now, in his TYT show, “The News with Dan Rather,” he describes himself as “An old TV newsman, leaning on new media, to connect with our future.” He’s providing a dose of news with a dash of commentary.
He warns that constant media coverage about who will get indicted and who will get elected results in “diversions that leave the powers that be free to take us back and free to take us down.”
Not surprisingly Rather is a severe critic of Trump and his presidency. He told Politico, “To have this kind of chaos, bordering on havoc, with (Trump in power), that’s something new, and very, very dangerous.”
He’s a champion of responsible news media, of course, reminding us on his YouTube program that the goal is to provide a Constitutional check on power. This requires what Rather calls “a shared sense of the truth.”
The new show, posted on Mondays at 5:30 p.m. ET, got about 75,000 views in the first 12 hours, and 5,000 likes. It’s a small pond for a guy who once was one of TV’s biggest fish.
But Dan Rather imparts a kind of calm reassurance about things. Based on the time I spent talking with him back in his CBS heyday, I can assure you he’s the same folksy, dedicated gentleman that you see on the screen.
He once observed, “What I say or do here won’t matter much, nor should it.” Still, it’s good to have Dan Rather back, especially right now, when the world seems upside down.
Peter Funt is a writer and speaker.