As I have often said, I have been fortunate in my career to have guides or mentors when I needed them most. My first mentors were my parents, who gave me a respect for reporters as important people, but often my mentors appeared from out of nowhere. My first journalism professor, Hugh Cunningham, literally saved my career. Not only did he teach me how to be a reporter, he also helped me get a job at KSAM, the radio station where I first got paid to practice those skills. At television station KHOU, Cal Jones taught me everything I needed to know about on-air reporting, paving the way for me to be "discovered" by CBS. One of my first mentors at the network was Charles Collingwood, but there were so many others. After I left CBS, there were two people who came to me out-of-the-blue: George Clooney and Mark Cuban. I want to credit them, along with my hard-working staff, for the success I have had thus far with the HDNet show, Dan Rather Reports.
I first met George Clooney when I interviewed him for 60 Minutes, and he struck me as a very intelligent guy. Years later, I had already left CBS when he asked me to present him with a Writers Guild Award for the movie Good Night, and Good Luck, a film about Edward R. Murrow and his fight against Joseph McCarthy. Clooney not only played Fred Friendly to David Strathairn's Murrow; he also wrote and directed. During the awards ceremony, I sat with Clooney and his agent. The Bush/CBS problem only came up once, when Clooney whispered an offhand comment in my ear: "So you got screwed. Happens all the time in my business. Forget it."
Out at CBS, I was looking for another way to stay in journalism, and I later asked George for advice. Clooney passed me on to Jeffrey Skoll, who sent me to talk to Mark Cuban. I knew Mark as the billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks, regularly seen energetically supporting his team, but he is also the owner of HDNet and a passionate supporter of investigative journalism.
At our meeting in Dallas, I was prepared to counter the accusation that I was a "lighting rod" for trouble, but for Mark, this was an asset. He liked the idea that I was a lighting rod. He asked me to put together some program ideas. I was delighted when his favorite was the one I really wanted to do: a combination of Edward R. Murrow's See It Now, Nightline, and 60 Minutes.
With a lot of hustling and fast learning on my part, our first segment of Dan Rather Reports was broadcast on HDNet November 14, 2006. Since then, we have put 42 hours of quality investigative journalism on the air every year. We've been nominated for 12 Emmys and won three—so far.
Our staff at the program strives every week to present hard-edged field reports, in-depth interviews and investigative pieces told with accuracy, fairness and guts. We've gone everywhere from the Strait of Hormuz off the coast of Bahrain, to Nepal, and to Afghanistan for stories about war, the global economy and international affairs and conflicts. We've also criss-crossed the United States to uncover many important stories that you WON'T see covered on other networks. A few that come to mind include a case of alleged corruption in the Detroit public school system, Indian workers being held in virtual slavery by a Louisiana company, and the continuing plight of Americans losing their jobs to workers brought in from other companies on H2B visas. –
Some of the episodes we are especially proud of include: "The Mysterious Case of Kevin Xu," "Iran's Manhattan Project," "Pornland, Oregon," "Plastic Planes," and "Spiritually Bankrupt."
After Dan Rather Reports had been on the air for a few years, Mark Cuban and I met to look back at what we had done, and look forward to where we wanted to go. It was brief, as is every meeting with Mark. At the end of it, I said, "Thank you for giving me this opportunity. Thank you for allowing me to do what I deeply want to do. You've given me so much, what can I do for you?"
Mark Cuban drilled me in the eyes, and then said: "Go piss people off."