His Name Is Mud to CBS Rivals, but Dan Rather Says That's the Way It Is
Rather won now because he forced the network's hand. He met "more than 12 times" with ABC's go-go News President Roone Arledge and was offered the anchor job, an $8 million five-year contract and influence unmatchable by either of the more established networks. "I want you to help run this place," Roone told him, meaning Dan could probably hire and fire anyone. The NBC News counteroffer was also tantalizing: comparable dollars and an anchor job in the future (the estimable John Chancellor would not retire immediately).
The Camera Never Blinks was the title of Rather's best-selling memoir. At this point CBS blinked. It recognized that it could not afford to lose a star like Dan. Pollsters—who are at least as pivotal in broadcasting as in politics—advised that Rather had a higher "Q" (likability) rating than any other newsman including Uncle Walter. But what finally put Dan over the top is that he is the scrappiest, hardest-working journalist of his TV generation (Mike Wallace is 61). While Mudd mastered Capitol Hill, Rather was out covering civil rights in the South, Vietnam in the field and the White House during Watergate. The more genteel Roger was simply outrun by the driven Dan, whose dad dug ditches while his mother was a waitress back in Houston.
CBS didn't quite equal the dollars or the control proffered by its rivals, but it did offer Cronkite's title of managing editor and a chance to continue with the No. 1 news organization. Rather's wife, Jean, who had been the secretary at his first Texas radio station, KTRH, forced him to focus on his decision by repeatedly asking, "Where will you be happiest?" Dan literally made lists of the pros and cons of each network's proposition, then opted for his employer of 19 years, the one that hired him in 1961 after his courageous coverage of Hurricane Carla in Galveston. "In the end," he says, "I went with my gut."
Clearly, money was not a major factor. "We are not a 'high-ticket' family," says Rather. When the bidding reached seven figures, Jean cracked, "Now I can stop taking in hand laundry." They own a six-room co-op on Manhattan's East Side and a modest Georgetown house. Rather admits to yearning for a summer place and a "small Henry Moore," but otherwise "Where would the money go? Both of my kids work some to help put themselves through college—partly because I think that it is good for them." Dan Jr., 19, is a sophomore at Columbia and Robin, 21, is a senior at Tufts and captain of the women's basketball team. "She plays a tough defense," brags Dan, who flies up to Boston to watch his 5'3" daughter play.
Mudd, surprisingly ungraceful in defeat, issued a terse statement noting that CBS News had acted "according to its current values and standards. From the beginning I've regarded myself as a news reporter and not as a newsmaker or celebrity." Rather acknowledges, "There is a celebrity side to this business. Ed Murrow was a megastar. Walter is one of the biggest celebrities in the country." In a press conference, Dan declared: "It would be a tragedy if we lost Roger Mudd." Later, though, he admitted: "I wouldn't be surprised if Roger went to work someplace else. I can put myself in his place." Yet in no way was CBS' Hotspur apologizing for replacing its Polonius. Last week Rather tore after his latest 60 Minutes assignment, a profile of Indiana University's basketball coach, Bobby Knight, without feeling undeserving of his big new job in 1981. "I've earned it," he says.