Walter Cronkite had an opportunity to defend Dan Rather on CNN last night in an interview with Wolf Blitzer, and mostly took a pass. While Uncle Walter made some unenthusiastic attempts at excusemaking, but declined the laughable assertion that the Killian memos still hadn’t been established as forgeries, and made his distaste for Dan Rather clear.
Here’s Walter on Memogate:
BLITZER: Well, he’s leaving under a cloud, as you well know, the circumstances surrounding that “60 Minutes” report. It’s unfortunate for him, given his career. But, looking back, there were lots of sloppy mistakes that were made.
CRONKITE: Well, you’re speaking of this particular episode, of course.
And that was most unfortunate. He hung on too long [with the story due] to his faith in his staff. They had provided this material. And he trusted them implicitly in all things and insisted that the information was correct for a whole week, when evidence was beginning to pile up that it wasn’t.
And on the notion that the memos themselves might prove genuine in the future, Cronkite indicates that he isn’t buying it:
BLITZER: He told David Letterman in an interview a couple days ago, he said this: “We were not able to authenticate the documents as thoroughly as I think we should have. Given a little more time, perhaps we could have.” He’s still laying out the possibility that those documents were real, as opposed to forgeries.
CRONKITE: Well, of course, we don’t have any evidence of that. That turned out to be more his hope, as he got deeper into the story, than the actuality would have indicated.
But it wasn’t until Blitzer asked Cronkite about Rather’s replacement that the latter’s distaste for Rather became clear:
BLITZER: Bob Schieffer, as you know, is going to be the interim anchor of “The CBS Evening News,” a good friend of all of ours, an outstanding journalist. Who do you think should emerge as the next anchor, the main anchor of CBS, after Bob Schieffer’s interim period?
CRONKITE: Well, I think it’s going to be hard to find anybody who is going to be as much liked and appreciated and does such a job as Bob Schieffer. I think he’s one of the great television journalists of our time. And he was a good journalist when he came to television from Fort Worth [Texas].
He is, to my mind, the man who, quite frankly — although Dan did a fine job — I would like to have seen him there a long time ago. He would have given the others a real run for their money. …
BLITZER: So, you would have been happier if Bob Schieffer would have replaced Dan Rather a while ago?
CRONKITE: I would have thought so, certainly — if not Bob, someone else.
But the best moment came when Cronkite noted that whoever CBS brought in as permanent anchor would have some mighty big shoes to fill. However, those zapatos wouldn’t be Dan’s:
They’re going to find it’s going to be tough not to follow Dan so much as to follow Schieffer.
And this is what Walter Cronkite says about Dan Rather when he’s retiring, at least from the anchor position. It would be like having the chairman of the board and former CEO get up at a retirement party for his replacement and talk about what a great guy the next replacement will be and how difficult it will be to follow him, while explaning that the man retiring hung on too long. Imagine what Cronkite must have thought about Rather during his long run at CBS.
So long, Dan. You’ll be missed … presumably … by some one.