Ten years after resigning as anchor of CBS News in the wake of a botched story on President George W. Bush, Dan Rather sat for a live interview Saturday as part of the 23rd Hamptons International Film Festival.
"I'm not perfect. I've made a lot of mistakes," Rather said. "But I've always tried to be a pull-no-punches, play-no-favorites, lifetime reporter."
Interviewed by Alec Baldwin before an admiring audience at Sag Harbor's Bay Street Theater, Rather spoke in support of the festival's opening-night film, "Truth," which screened Thursday.
"Truth" recounts Rather's "60 Minutes Wednesday" report, which used documents suggesting Bush had failed to fulfill his National Guard service during the Vietnam War. The documents were later found to likely be forgeries, and the ensuing controversy ended Rather's 43-year career at CBS. In "Truth," Robert Redford plays Rather and Cate Blanchett plays his producer, Mary Mapes.
"To say the least I was pleased when they chose Robert Redford to play the role," said Rather, 83.
"It's a surreal experience and I'm still trying to process it."
The crowd gave Rather standing ovations on his entrance and exit. Baldwin introduced the veteran newsman by saying, "I've been watching Dan Rather on TV for 47 years, since I was 10 years old." Over the course of the one-hour interview, Rather touched on his time covering decades of pivotal news stories, including the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, Watergate, the Iran-Contra scandal and 9/11.
Asked by Baldwin which of those events made him most worried about the state of America, Rather chose 9/11.
"The decision to go into Iraq was a strategic blunder of historic proportions," he said to a round of applause, but he added, "I'm an optimist by experience and by nature. We'll get through this period."
As for the story that brought him down, Rather stuck to his guns. "It was true then, and it's true now," he said. "The process was flawed. That's a different thing than the story was wrong."
Though Rather was consulted by the filmmakers of "Truth," he said he had no control or financial interest in it.
"My hope is it will broaden a new conversation," Rather said of the film. "I hope it'll spark a new and broader discussion about the importance of a free and independent -- fiercely independent when necessary -- press, which is part of the red, beating heart of democracy and freedom."