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Covering The Rather News

(AP)
Yesterday's Washington Post included a piece by Howard Kurtz with the following lede: "CBS executives have decided there is no future role at the network for Dan Rather, making it certain that the man who sat in the anchor chair for 24 years will depart by this fall." The Associated Press yesterday reported much the same: "CBS executives and Rather's representatives appear close to a deal that will end Rather's association with CBS News after more than 40 years, according to an executive knowledgeable about the situation who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity on Thursday."

The sources for the stories were anonymous, and the speculation nothing new – for months there had been talk that Rather would be leaving CBS News in the near future. But two major news organizations, citing CBS executives, had thrown their weight behind the story, and it took off, becoming one of ABCNews.com and CNN.com's top stories and appearing on the
MSNBC.com homepage.

The development left CBSNews.com in a tough position. "We talked it over [yesterday] morning, and decided that because the story is about CBS News, we have to be more thorough," says Mike Sims, CBSNews.com director of news and operations. "The story carries more gravity than it does on other sites because it's about CBS News. I asked our folks to call the CBS News press office, do reporting on it, and include that."

They did. According to Mary-Jayne McKay, senior producer at CBSNews.com, "we went to CBS publicity and got a comment on it from [CBS spokeswoman] Sandy Genelius, which was no comment. We were working from the AP story -- we had no inside information, even though some people might assume we do."

A story about Rather went up yesterday on CBS News' recently-launched entertainment site, Showbuzz. None was posted on the main CBSNews.com site. "It was not a must run, because there was no advancement," says Sims. "For the past two months there was speculation about this. I tend not to be big on speculation stories."

Yesterday afternoon, TV Week posted a story featuring an interview with Rather in which he acknowledged that "[f]inishing details are being worked out for me to leave CBS News after 44 years." CBS News continued to decline comment. The story showed up on cable news networks, though Rather was not mentioned on last night's "Evening News." This morning brought a flurry of stories confirming Rather's departure. "I'm going to move onto the next step of my career," Rather told the New York Daily News.

CBSNews.com posted a story on Rather this morning, tied to the reports. "If Rather's confirmed it, that's the movement in the story you need," says Sims.