Over the past few weeks, this curious and rather sad side drama enveloped ongoing coverage of the JFK assassination anniversary: Would Dan Rather be airbrushed out of CBS News' coverage of that tragic long-ago day altogether? In fact, he was not: He appeared on Saturday's quite-good "48 Hours" special edition, "As It Happened."
Rather had a major role that day 50 years ago for CBS' coverage, even though he was not yet a CBS News employee -- he'd join a year later. Among Rather's firsts that day: He was one of the first to have seen the Zapruder film, and one of the first national TV newsmen to report that President Kennedy had been assassinated. Rather -- I'm reasonably certain -- was the first network newsman to confirm the president's death (ABC and NBC had thrown their air over to affiliates in the middle of the day, and come on with wall-to-wall coverage after CBS, which had been airing "As the World Turns").
In any event, he was not included in CBS' planned coverage of the 50th -- lingering bitterness over the wrongful-termination lawsuit he filed against CBS. The omission got a lot of attention, and even got a reaction from Rather, who last Thursday told a reporter on a conference call in response to the omission:
This follows the pattern that they've had for some years of in effect trying to airbrush me out of their history. That doesn't bother me all that much nor should it. If anybody is to care about it – and I'm not saying anybody should – it is – it's one thing for the corporations, for their own purposes, to say, "Look, we just want it as if Dan Rather was never here." But – as a news organization responsible for history. I think the consumer, the news consumer, might want to question whether you want large corporations trying to change history for their corporate interests. It's not a big issue. It may not be an issue at all, but if there's anything to be concerned about how they handled it, that would be it. Now, after they put out the press release, which clearly signaled their intentions, when The Associated Press ran a fairly short story, noticing the press release, I had nothing to do with that other than the guy called me and said, "What do you think?" After that, they then sort of put some people out forward saying, "Oh, we're going to run clips of him in our coverage."
And voilà -- Saturday night. Here's the broadcast again, if you missed it. Rather arrives at the 16-minute mark.
Meanwhile, for those who can get AXS TV, Rather's special airs tonight: "My Days in Dallas: A Remembrance With Dan Rather" which premieres Monday, Nov. 18, at 8 p.m.