Dan Rather: A Reporter Remembers
Rather also reported on the 1989 student protests in Tiananmen Square. He followed his instinct and knew it would be a big story.
"You could hear these voices of the young. This was a true people's movement, led by students. And you know, it came so breathtakingly close to succeeding," recalls Rather.
"But day by day, you could feel the pressure of the government beginning to inch in. Having to get increasingly tougher with the people in Tiananmen Square. And they also were having to get increasingly tougher with the press."
Rather says representatives from the Chinese government appeared at the hotel where CBS set up shop, to shut them down. "It was whispered to me, you know, back-pedal for time. Think of anything. Keep 'em talking," recalls Rather, who says that Susan Spencer had pictures of some of the toughest crackdown to date and was sending it up on the satellite.
"Eventually, they said, 'Enough already. Even though you may be broadcasting live, even though the world's gonna see it, I'm here to pull the plug, and we're gonna do it now,'" says Rather.
"And it went to hash, and that ended the live broadcasting from there. And when they shut off live television, I think any reasonably intelligent person who had been following the story knew, it was only a matter of time until they would move in and end what was happening in Tiananmen Square."
Rather was also a correspondent for 48 Hours, when the show first started in 1988. It went on to be one of the longest-running news magazines in television history.
"How can you be an authority on things if you don't sometimes get out of the windowless room on the West side of Manhattan, grab a pencil and notebook, get a camera crew and go cover something," says Rather, of his experience on that show.
"I don't think it was an error to be true to myself and be true to the audience and say just because I'm moving from the anchor chair, it doesn't mean that you stop being a reporter. I didn't do that, and for that at least, I'm not sorry."
While serving as anchor, Rather reported from Baghdad, and interviewed Saddam Hussein after Iraq invaded Kuwait.
"I was in bed, after midnight, and there was a knock at the door. And there were two people in uniform, one with an automatic weapon and a guy said in broken English, 'Come with us,'" recalls Rather, of his interview with Hussein.
"There is nothing like seeing the person in flesh. A grip of his handshake and the look in his eye. He has what the military calls command presence," he remembers.
Rather says he interviewed Hussein for more than an hour: "As soon as the interview ended, he wanted to give me a tour of the palace. Mentally, I'm saying, 'The last thing I need is a tour of the palace. I want to just get this videotape out of here.' Finally I said, 'Look this is interesting, I can hear the history of Iraq as told by Saddam Hussein for a long time. And this is a lovely palace, but I've got to go.'"