Dan Rather: A Reporter Remembers
Rather covered the White House for 10 years, and that included the last part of President Lyndon B. Johnson's elective term.
"He preferred to deal person to person, always feeling that if he could just get one on one with you, he could get you going his way," says Rather.
"Once or twice he called me when I was at my in-laws' house in Texas. You know, you always want to be at your best with your in-laws. They all want to know, 'Well, what'd he say?' And you say, 'Well, frankly he took a big chunk out of my backside,'" Rather remembers.
Rather says one of the more interesting campaign events he covered was the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago. Rather was knocked down while reporting from the convention floor. "Don't push me," Rather said from the convention floor. "Take your hands off me unless you plan to arrest me!"
"I'm sorry to be out of breath, but somebody belted me in the stomach during that," said Rather, in his report. "What happened is a Georgia delegate, at least he had a Georgia delegate sign on, was being hauled out of the hall. We tried to talk to him to see why, who he was, what the situation was, and at that instant the security people, well as you can see, put me on the deck. I didn't do very well."
When President Nixon was elected in 1969, Rather and other reporters felt pressure from the White House. "Either you report it our way, or we make you pay a price," says Rather.
On June 17, 1972, a team of seven men broke into the offices of the Democratic National Committee, in a high-rise complex called the Watergate. The story broke slowly at first, but questions about who may have authorized the break-in and why gained momentum. And before long, there was a trail leading up to the White House door.
"From the moment that we began aggressive reporting about what we now call Watergate, relations between President Nixon and the White House, myself and CBS got progressively worse in a hurry," says Rather.
In March 1974, Rather reported on President Nixon's trip to Houston, Texas, Rather's hometown. "By this time," says Rather, "President Nixon was beginning to get cornered by the facts."
President Nixon held what was billed as a news conference, but Rather recalls, "It was designed to be not a news conference. It was designed to be a political rally in support of the president."
In that atmosphere, when the president called on Rather, "there were some cheers, but there were a lot of boos."
Rather: Thank you, Mr. President. Dan Rather, CBS News. Mr. President ...
Nixon: Are you running from something?
At that point, Rather says, "I was thinking at the time, you know, don't let him throw you off. ... And that's when I said what I did."
Rather: No sir, Mr. President. Are you?
"What I meant was, let me get on with my question. That's what I'm here to do. And I think it's fair to say, there was some hell to pay after that," recalls Rather, of his exchange with President Nixon. "My only regret about it, that whole thing, is that everybody remembers that exchange where I wish they'd remember the question I asked."
Rather: How can the House meet its constitutional responsibility, while you, the person under investigation, are allowed to limit their access to potential evidence?
Rather says it was an important question.
Nixon: I am suggesting that the House follow the Constitution. If they do, I will.
"In the end, President Nixon couldn't reconcile what he had been telling people had happened, with what the special prosecutor was developing in the way of facts and first-person eyewitness testimony," said Rather. "And that's what led to his resignation.
Nixon: "Therefore, I shall resign the presidency, effective at noon tomorrow."
During his broadcast, Rather said: "There is no joy in this for anyone - no decent thinking American could take any joy out of this."