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Writing The Rather Story For The "Evening News"

Think your day at work was fraught with potential pitfalls and consisted of high-risk balancing acts? You should try putting together a broadcast news story about the tense departure from your company of a colleague who also happens to be a news legend. "It was an incredibly difficult thing to do," said CBS News correspondent Anthony Mason about the 3-plus minute package he wrote and voiced on Dan Rather's exit from CBS News. (Click on the picture to watch.)

In an interview, Mason said he was cognizant of the different audiences he was writing for in the piece. "You're writing the story first," he said. Then, "you're writing for the front office, you're writing for the critics. You're also writing for the people you work with, your colleagues who are going to judge it in their own way and then, lastly, you're writing for Dan." And you're considering "how each of those audiences are going to perceive the story" -- and asking whether it is "truthful and fair" to each, said Mason.

The story was a "company statement" but not a "press release," according to Mason. "You know you're being judged on a number of different levels by this story, and I don't mean me personally, but the company itself," he said. "This is the story that represents how the CBS 'Evening News' views Dan Rather." Mason said the story had to be an "honest piece of journalism," but added, "I think you owe your colleagues -- the people you work with who've risked their lives over the years for this company -- I think you owe them respect and a dignified portrait."

Mason said he knew that "who was in the story or who wasn't in the story or what was said or what wasn't said was going to be looked at."

He said Rather declined to be interviewed for the piece. "We asked him and he declined, and that's his prerogative, obviously." Mason said he was "sorry" because, "I would have loved to have talked to him," but added, "I understand where he's coming from completely."

When it came to including "Memogate" in the story, Mason said he found it to be "the least troublesome thing because that's pretty much out there and on the record." He added, "pretending that that's not there would be ludicrous." Mason also said he had "no problem" in "suggesting" that the episode was "what led to Dan's departure, because it did." Mason called the story a "tribute," one that has to "express respect but be honest at the same time about the failures and balance all of that out."

"Most of all," Mason said, he wrote the piece for "the people I work with." There is "nobody in my lifetime who's been bigger than Dan," he said, adding, "when you see a colleague who's given so much to the company that you work for leaving under the circumstances that he's leaving under, you have all these mixed emotions." It was not "difficult for me to muster respect for Dan, I have profound respect" for him, said Mason.

As for how he became the correspondent assigned to the piece, Mason said that's a question for the "Evening News" producers. But he thought part of the answer was, "I just happened to be there."

Isn't that how all the hard jobs are given out?