New York • CBS News hasn’t invited Dan Rather back to participate in its 50th-anniversary coverage of the Kennedy assassination, but images of the longtime anchor who parted bitterly with the network will be a part of its upcoming documentary on how the story unfolded that day.
Rather helped organize CBS’ plans for President John F. Kennedy’s visit to Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, and as a young reporter was a key component of assassination coverage. Now 82, with his own show on AXS-TV, he’s one of the few reporters on the story who day still active in journalism.
CBS News said it wouldn’t comment on Rather. CBS Washington bureau chief Bob Schieffer, who as a newspaper reporter in 1963 gave the mother of Lee Harvey Oswald a ride to Dallas after the assassination, will anchor a Nov. 16 special that traces CBS’ coverage that day.
CBS’ announcement of Schieffer’s special said “viewers are in the moment with legendary anchor Walter Cronkite and journalism’s iconic reporters: Charles Collingwood, Harry Reasoner, Charles Kuralt and Mike Wallace.” All of those men are now dead.
“Setting my feelings aside about it, this is not a good idea to say we want to change the historical record so we’re going to airbrush this guy out because we don’t like him,” Rather said. “They may want to control the way the public thinks about my record, but I’m pretty sure they have not been able to do that.”
Although Rather’s name isn’t mentioned in the announcement, it’s considered likely the Schieffer documentary will include 50-year-old clips of Rather.
As a young New Orleans bureau chief for CBS in November 1963, Rather had a mundane assignment in Dallas. He had arranged locations along the presidential motorcade route for film of the visit to be picked up and transmitted to CBS’ New York headquarters. He had no on-air assignment.
He sprang into action when it became clear something had gone terribly wrong. Rather described in his 1977 book, The Camera Never Blinks, that CBS radio went with his report that Kennedy was dead – based not on official confirmation but his phone conversations with men who identified themselves as a doctor and priest at the hospital where Kennedy was taken, and a colleague’s conversation with the hospital’s chief of staff.
It was an extraordinary risk: if Rather was wrong, he conceded his career in journalism likely would have ended there.
Days later, Rather was among the first people to see film of the assassination taken by Abraham Zapruder and he later described it live on CBS, reading from a spiral notebook what it captured of the president and first lady at the moment of impact. CBS failed, however, to acquire rights to the film.
“I’m proud of what CBS News did at the time,” Rather said. “When the country needed it, CBS News was the best in the business.”
Rather gave an extensive interview about what happened that day to his old competitor, NBC’s Tom Brokaw, for use on Brokaw’s NBC special to air Nov. 22.