You can love him. You can hate him. It really doesn't matter. He's been in first place, and in third place. Dan Rather has reigned two entire decades in the anchor chair of the "CBS Evening News."
Think of how long Rather's been delivering the nightly updates in his strange, guess-when-I-will-crack demeanor. When he took the reins from Walter Cronkite in March 1981, Leonid Brezhnev still commanded a fearsome Soviet Union. Margaret Thatcher was still a greenhorn. Ronald Reagan was a few weeks away from an unfortunate encounter with John Hinckley. Inflation raged, and Democrats were predicting that Reagan's proposed tax cuts would devastate the country.
Rather might say his longevity isn't extraordinary when you consider that ABC's Peter Jennings and NBC's Tom Brokaw have competed with him at the top of the Big Three since 1983. Competition may have forced Dan to sit next to Connie Chung, but that was only temporary. CBS News hasn't prospered with Rather at the helm, yet somehow he's managed to survive in that chair all these years.
CNN's Bernard Shaw may have surrendered his top cable perch after two decades at the tender age of 60, but Rather has been resisting any retirement talk, despite embarrassments like his failure to accept George W. Bush's victory in Florida. To celebrate Dan's unceasing grip on his anchor desk, let us offer a little quiz to remind you of Rather's long-standing professional patterns (just answer b):
1. Rather's toughest presidential evaluation was a) telling Bill Clinton at a CBS affiliates meeting in 1993 that "If we could be one-hundredth as great as you and Hillary Rodham Clinton have been in the White House, we'd take it right now and walk away winners"; b) telling George H.W. Bush in 1988, "You've made us hypocrites in the face of the world" on Iran-Contra.
2. Dan's idea of the Russian leader responsible for "freewheeling infant democracy" in Moscow was a) Boris Yeltsin; b) Mikhail Gorbachev. Actually, in 1994, Rather presented Yeltsin as the "authoritarian," a word he never wanted to use for Gorbachev.
3. The ten-foot-pole term of "so-called" is routinely applied by Rather to a) the National Organization for Women; b) the Christian Coalition.
4. Earning Rather's deepest scorn over "hate talk, extremist, racist, and violent rhetoric" were a) TV network defenders of the Los Angeles riots of 1992; b) talk-radio supporters of the Contract with America in 1995. Yes, the Oklahoma City bombing was somehow Rush Limbaugh's fault.
5. Dan's most patriotic moment during an American military engagement was a) asking Saddam Hussein before the Gulf War if this was "Vietnam in the sand for the United States"; b) kvetching over Republican critics of Clinton's war in Kosovo: "The finger-pointing, backside-covering, and back-stabbing going on in Washington gives Milosevic and his people pleasure."
And Dan's question gave no pleasure to Saddam?
6. Bill Clinton was most at home ideologically when he looked like a) a liberal entranced by his leftist spouse; b) he was "running pretty hard to the right" to get elected.
7. The man Rather described over and over with the partisan "Republican independent counsel" label was a) Iran-Contra prosecutor Lawrence Walsh; b) Whitewater/Lewinsky prosecutor Ken Starr. Mr. Starr was also the one to be told repeatedly to evacuate Washington by Rather's incessant CBS News poll updates.
8. Which story of sexual allegations caused Rather to tell Larry King, "I have hated it from the very beginning and I have hated it right the way through...I have no apology. I hate it. I have hated it all the way through?" a) Anita Hill charging Clarence Thomas with sexual harassment; b) Bill Clinton lying under oath about his sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky.
9. Guess which decade deserved Rather's praise for its economic strength? a) The decade that routinely left "another hangover of the go-go 1980s"; or b) The decade that proved "it is not partisan to say that during the Clinton years the economy has been outstandingly good. That's a fact."
10. Never shy to declare his deep reverence for the notion of journalistic objectivity, Rather has contended that his reporting proves he's known as a) one of the media's many "common sense moderates"; b) one of many in the media who's "pretty good at keeping independence in their reporting"; c) one who has no "political agenda, inside, outside, downside, upside"; d) an "honest broker of information" who "plays no favorites and pulls no punches."
The answer to this last one is all of the above. The other nine questions are a very brief distillation of a voluminous 20-year record proving just how silly these last answers are.