Mashable man Dan Rather isn’t the retiring type
NEW YORK (AP) -- At age 83, Dan Rather is starting over.
The veteran broadcaster has quietly shut down the "Dan Rather Reports" newsmagazine he'd been making since leaving CBS News a decade ago and opened an independent production company, with seed money from AXS-TV founder Mark Cuban in exchange for a series of interviews with entertainers. His "News & Guts" firm is even working on a scripted fiction series.
Rather has also signed on for reporting and analysis at the website Mashable, where his story urging people not to get too wound up about the early stages of the 2016 presidential campaign appeared this week.
Retirement? Not an option.
"I love to work," Rather said. "I have my flaws and I've made a lot of mistakes, but I've always loved covering news and I have a passion for covering news. I couldn't see myself not doing it as long as I have my health."
"I'd much rather wear out than rust out," he said.
Rather moves more slowly and speaks more softly than during his days as chief CBS News anchor. A piece of paper with two of Cuban's email addresses sits prominently on his desk; the Internet entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner has been Rather's patron in his post-CBS years.
Although widely unseen, Rather's newsmagazine took on tough topics like underage prostitution, flaws in electronic voting, floating garbage dumps at sea and temporary housing that made many hurricane victims sick. AXS-TV, formerly HDNet, is available in less than half of the nation's TV homes. While far more than when Rather started, the audience is a fraction of CBS' "60 Minutes," where Rather once figured to spend his last working years. The switch to the music-focused AXS-TV meant the newsmagazine was out of place.
Rather now hosts "The Big Interview," a format that placed the hard-bitten former White House correspondent with personalities like Emmylou Harris, Trisha Yearwood, Don Rickles, Dolly Parton, Aaron Sorkin, Josh Groban and Weird Al Yankovic for hour-long programs. Interviews with Dwight Yoakam and Bob Weir are upcoming in August.
"We discontinued `Dan Rather Reports' because `The Big Interview' was working so well," Cuban said. "Dan is the best in the business and the quality of interviews he is doing is incredible. I wanted more of them."
Watching the courtly Rather interviewing Jack White in Nashville, Tennessee, was a culture shock. Rather dressed down -- suit jacket and open-necked shirt -- while the natty White was in a suit and tie. One can imagine the White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army" booming from Rather's office as he prepped for the piece. He described White as "one of the great guitar heroes of our time."
Rather kept his questions simple and broad to make the interview appealing to those only generally acquainted with White's work. The musician, who clearly respected Rather and his background, responded with interesting stories.
If Rather considers the interviews as being beneath his former heights, he doesn't show it.
"This is very meaningful work in that it keeps us in business while we look around for other things to do," he said. "We also continue looking to find a home to do the kind of work that is deepest within me and deepest within the people here -- and that is first-class, quality journalism and deep-digging investigative reporting."
Rather's exit from CBS was memorably ugly, stemming from his participation in a discredited 2004 story about President George W. Bush's military service. He stood by the story and sued his former employer for breach of contract, a case thrown out by New York courts after many bitter words exchanged and much money spent. With CBS' corporate ownership intact, Rather doesn't expect the relationship to be repaired.
"I would hope so, but I have to emphasize there is no empirical evidence anywhere that I can find that it's likely to happen," he said. "I don't think about it much anymore. It was a long time ago."
How much this drives a man who covered the Kennedy assassination, Watergate, the disputed 2000 election, the 9/11 attacks to continue to prove himself to CBS News, only a psychiatrist would truly know.
Rather said it's too early to reveal specific series that News & Guts is working on, for fear some ideas might be stolen. He has 12 people on his production team, down from 22 at its peak. He concedes that finding buyers for his type of reporting is a challenge.
"I'm finding it tough to convince anybody who is at the lever of the delivery systems of my belief that the market for this kind of news exists," he said. "Time and again, the subject is changed, eyes glaze over and, either spoken or unspoken, the feeling is, `Dan, you can't live in the past."'
Rather's experience is appreciated at Mashable, where executive editor and chief content officer Jim Roberts said he hoped some of Rather's old-school approach rubs off on his young staff. Roberts said he is intrigued by how Rather relates to the personalities of a new digital world and hopes Rather is a good match for Mashable's growing video unit.
"He really does want to be part of the conversation," Roberts said. "Other people in his generation would have slowed down long ago or, more to the point, wouldn't want to be part of the conversation -- it's chaotic, it's crazy. He really wants to be part of it. He really wants to be in the thick of it."
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