I watched the Dan Rather tribute video on CBS with a real sense of awe. He'd covered Kennedy's assassination, Nixon and Watergate, Tiananmen Square, the Berlin Wall, hurricanes. He'd interviewed Saddam Hussein. I watched him go through various stages of 80s news graphics and sideburn prominence -- he'd just been around for so long. Forty-four years at CBS News, 24 years in the anchor chair. Said colleague and competitor Tom Brokaw: "He wore CBS on his sleeve."
Which makes his departure this week so sad -- and so bewildering. Much ink has been spilled on the how and why of the split, but it is bewildering to me on a larger level.
Aside from whatever may have been "due" to Rather after years and years of service to the network, it puzzles me that he wouldn't be considered a valuable -- indeed, vital -- resource for the newsroom. Yet CBS isn't the first network to seek out new, younger blood. Not by a long shot -- it's a trend across the networks embodied by the ascension of Katie Couric and Anderson Cooper and, briefly, Bob Woodruff and Elizabeth Vargas. But is the pruning of elder statesmen from the ranks part of the natural order, or will the de-graying of the newsroom ultimately lead to a greening of the news?
This occurred to me earlier this week after Anderson Cooper's highly-anticipated, much-touted interview with Angelina Jolie. General consensus: not great. Though it may well have been a ratings watershed for CNN, by all accounts it was, well, boring. Cooper was cast as an inexpert and slightly clumsy interviewer (which was apparent from the promos featuring him asking, wide-eyed, "So ... what was it like giving birth?" Cringe). As he said on his blog, "I was free to ask [Angelina] whatever I wanted." Knowing that, his shortcomings as an interviewer are even more apparent.
I don't mean to pick on Anderson here (cough, dimples and blue eyes, cough), but that interview is precisely what I mean by the word "green": he was a little cowed by his subject, and a little puffed up with his own importance in being singled out by her. He's earnest and that's one of his endearing qualities, but I have no doubt that a more seasoned reporter would have been more exciting to watch, and learn from.