Dan Rather: A Reporter Remembers

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Dan Rather's journey from the unpaved streets of Houston, Texas, to the press room at the White House and the anchor's seat at CBS Evening News is outlined in a one-hour primetime news special.

This CBS News special is a candid memoir of Rather's extraordinary career, told in his own words, and spans the past 50 years of his life, and of the nation's history.
Dan Rather says he always dreamed of being a reporter while growing up in the Heights Annex of Houston, Texas.

"All frame houses. Streets were unpaved. But this was not unusual. This was the 1930s," says Rather. "My father had a job in the Depression, which was a precious thing. He was a pipe-liner, which meant that he dug ditches along which they could lay pipe."

He says he lived in a great neighborhood, where people looked after one another: "I can remember any number of times, I'd get a block and a half away, and if I didn't behave myself, before I got home, my mother knew about it."

When Rather was 10, he developed rheumatic fever, which left him bed-ridden for two specific periods, once for a period of eight or nine months. "I hated having to stay in bed. But the radio was my escape," says Rather.

"The great war, World War II, was exploding. The Ed Murrows, the Charles Collingwoods, the Richard C. Hottelets — the great legends of CBS became very real to me," adds Rather.

"People in radio were great describers. A picture sometimes is worth 1,000 words. But sometimes a word, the right word, is worth 1,000 pictures. I knew that from listening to radio."

When Rather recovered from his fever, he was thin, and had difficulty moving because he was in bed for such a long time. But as soon as he was able to get up, he says his father insisted that he go right back to work: "By getting work, beginning at 14, in and around oil fields and pipe gangs, I built my strength up fairly quickly."

Rather's mother was "absolutely determined" that her son go to college "against all odds," as he put it. Rather wound up at what was then Sam Houston State Teachers College in Huntsville, Texas.

"I started to enroll, and they say, 'What do you want to major in?' I said, 'Well, you know, I want to be a reporter,'" says Rather.

"When I started in broadcasting, which overstates a bit, my job in radio was to be a jack-of-all-trades, write commercials, do newscasts, and football, baseball, and basketball games, play-by-play. This was certainly not rocket science. But one of the things I learned was the ability to ad lib."

In September 1961, Rather was in Galveston, Texas, covering Hurricane Carla. "Hurricane Carla was so huge and potentially so destructive that pretty quickly it became clear to the weather bureau that what they needed to do is convince people they needed to evacuate," says Rather.

"And the key was to use, I say it with a smile, the new technology, which was the ability to get a radar picture pretty far out in the Gulf."

Putting the radar picture of the hurricane on TV was something new. "People could see in the living rooms how huge the hurricane was," says Rather. "While the death toll was reasonably small, the reason it was low is because people listened and got out."

In late 1961, after the coverage of Hurricane Carla, CBS News hired Rather to be a news correspondent. His job was to cover 23 states, Mexico and Central America. "This was my territory, if you will," says Rather.
  • Rebecca Leung

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