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Dan Rather: ‘I felt like hell, of course I did’ After CBS Didn’t Renew His Contract

Mother Jones magazine has a wide-ranging piece on former “CBS Evening News” anchor Dan Rather and his current employer Mark Cuban.

Rather and Cuban get profiled, of course, but the most interesting section comes when Rather talks about the split between him and CBS. In particular when he claims that the reason why so few of his story ideas ended up on “60 Minutes” after he left the evening newscast were because Viacom was trying to curry favor with the Bush Administration.

New CBS News chairman, and “60 Minutes” executive producer Jeff Fager responded to that claim with a vehement denial:

“The fact that he keeps making these claims is outrageous,” says Jeff Fager, the show’s executive producer, who keeps pictures of Rather on his office wall even though the two have barely spoken in years. (Rather sued CBS, in part to unearth evidence of Viacom’s political meddling, but his case was dismissed in January 2010.) “I think he was distracted, and it was hard for him to focus on just doing stories,” Fager adds. “There might be something to his crusade, that the conglomerates in media don’t want to take the chance of investing in reporting because it is risky. But not this company.”

Rather responded to Fager’s comments by saying:

“These are people that I worked with, I trusted, who came under extreme pressure,” Rather responds when I bring up Fager’s comment. “I’d like to think they did things they preferred not to do, such as say that I wasn’t working hard or that the quality of my work was low. Jeff knows better than that.” He pauses for a long time. “He’ll have to live with his conscience.”

Later on the piece examines the conundrum Rather faces on HDNet: the anchor has total journalistic freedom, and financial backing from Cuban, but who is actually watching?

Cuban has also freed him from the two most pervasive pressures broadcast journalists face: ratings and demographics. When he began in television, Rather recalls, he would check ratings maybe twice a quarter, but broadcast news steadily devolved into a nightly numbers game. Cuban isn’t too concerned with how many people watch any particular show, as long as his distributors are happy and he can grow the subscriber base. Nor does he share with Rather the numbers he gets from Rentrak, a proprietary ratings service. “It’s odd, to say the least,” Rather says. “Weird.”

Cuban is also in the news because he is said to be pursuing troubled actor Charlie Sheen for his own talk show. That means that someday soon we could have Dan Rather leading in to Charlie Sheen. What a magical world we live in.

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