Excerpt from Rather Outspoken
Come to the edge, he said.
They said: We are afraid.
Come to the edge, he said.
He pushed them . . . and they flew.
It's a Friday evening in New York in the early spring of 2006. I'm in my combined 60 Minutes and 60 Minutes II office at 555 West 57th, across the street from the old renovated milk barn that has been CBS News world headquarters for many years. Out the window is a glorious view of the Hudson River, the view stretching across the river and into the trees and rocks of New Jersey.
There's nobody else around. It is quiet as a tomb, and my mind begins to wander: a kaleidoscope of thoughts. There are smiles, worries and concerns, and flashes of the past. I've been a professional journalist,a reporter, for 60 years, 44 of them at CBS News, 24 of them as anchor and managing editor of the CBS Evening News—the network's flagship broadcast. They called it "being the face and the voice" of CBS's storied News Division. With the exception of Britain's BBC, it was the best known and most honored broadcast news operation in the world.
But that's all in the past. As "the face and voice of CBS News," Edward R. Murrow is long gone. So is Walter Cronkite. And so am I. This was supposed to be a new beginning for me, but it is feeling very much like the beginning of the end. At least at CBS.
I almost desperately don't want it to be. I am still hoping against hope that somehow, someway, things will work out and I can stay. In denial? Well, I don't think so. But time and the tides are running in that direction.
An old friend who, like me, grew up working in the oilfields and refineries of the Texas Gulf Coast as the son of an oilfield hand had called a short while earlier. He's been retired for a few years and called just to touch base, tell a few jokes and in general be supportive and encouraging.
"Rags," he finally said, using my father's nickname that had been passed on to me in my youth. "You don't want to face it, I know. But you're finished there. They have decided to scapegoat you, throw you to the wolves and be rid of you. They're doing it to save themselves. It ain't fair or right, but it's what is. And the sooner you recognize it and deal with it, the better off you're going to be."
He went on to say some over complimentary things about "what a great reporter you've been . . . best of your time and one of the best ever . . . who's given CBS News some of the best years they've ever had," and so on. That kind of thing. But by this time, I had tuned him pretty much out. My mind was racing and wandering.
To hell with this, I was thinking. He's a friend, naturally he's going to say those things. He means well, and I appreciate it. More than he can know. He's trying to be helpful. But I know my weaknesses and strengths. This includes knowing, really knowing down deep, that I had wanted since childhood to do extended great reporting, work that might stand with the best of my time, if not the best ever. And I had not achieved that. Not nearly. Not yet. This is not false humility. It's not humility of any kind. It's how I genuinely feel.
What I felt at this moment was that in the dream of doing the kind of reporting that I like best and believe I do best—big breaking news, international stories including covering war zones and deep-digging investigative journalism—CBS News was the best place to be. By far.
I loved the place, loved the people and loved what CBS represented: an Institution —not just a great corporation, but an institution important to the country and to the cause of press freedom everywhere.
That last part may strike some people as overstated. It never struck me that way. About that, I was a true believer.
I also loved the history and tradition of the place, which I knew well. There may well have been (probably have been) better, much better CBS News correspondents than I over the years, but there's never been one who knew the history of the place better. I also loved the lore, the mythology and high sense of mission exuded by the CBS I had known. I loved it all when I was a young reporter just breaking in with the network. And I loved it even more now that I was an older man. I was now 74, and age had given me an even greater appreciation of how lucky I was to have spent most of my career at CBS.
But age also had given me perspective. Try as I had, and I had tried hard—I gave it everything I knew how—I knew within myself that the dream of doing sustained great work, work that would be recognized as truly great and a service to my country, was not completed.
Sure, I've had my good days—big interviews, world-class exclusive stories, breaking news and having long, good reporting runs on big stories and the like. But I also know how often I've failed, haven't been as good as I could have, should have been. And a body, a lifetime, of great journalistic work? No, not yet. I'm working on it though, still striving, still trying, still determined, still chasing the childhood dream. And I want to do it here at CBS News—my home for most of my professional life.
"Never, never, ever give up," I was thinking as my old Texas friend's voice tailed off. (My father had quoted Winston Churchill's famous line so often that it had become rote to me long ago.)
And besides, I was thinking, I know this business and I know these people, the people of CBS News. And the people at the top of CBS corporate. We have, almost literally, been to hell and back together over the years, through good times and bad, through sunshine and storms. I trust them and they trust me. This trust has been tested time and again. It's been forged to strong steel in hot fires, past and present, over nearly half a century. We'll find a way to work it out. If nothing else, we will just will it to happen.
Was it hubris? Naivete? Did I have my head in the sand? Looking back on it, maybe some or all of that. But I didn't think so at the time. What I did think, what I knew, was that I was feeling deeply troubled. Among the things troubling me most (and there were a lot of things) was that some longtime colleagues at CBS had turned against me. Some of these people I had considered to be friends. Some were people whom I had hired, mentored, promoted and/or helped in various ways professionally. Fair to say that some of them had helped me along the way, too. Helped a lot. Couldn't have, wouldn't have done it without their help.
On the other hand, some good friends were standing tall and standing by me. And there were other people whom I didn't know well who did the same. I shouldn't have been surprised. It's an old story: When the heat's on and you need someone to stand with you, those who you most expect will don't, and those who you least expect do. But surprised I was, by those who did and by those who didn't.
The worst were those, after pretending to be friends for all those years, who stealthily snuck around giving anonymous newspaper quotes and otherwise scheming to put the dirk in deep when I was down and hurting.
One of them, a veteran news executive who was one of the most publicly lauded men in the craft and for whom I had worked since first coming to CBS, made a series of secret telephone calls to newspaper writers lambasting me personally and professionally—all under the cover of "don't use my name," of course.
But, hey, I said to myself, this is the big time; you've been privileged to play the game at the top for a long while. These are the major leagues: envy, cowardice and betrayal are part of life. Stuff happens, and people will always surprise you; take it for what you can learn from it and take it like a man, like a pro. And just keep on keeping on. Which is what I was trying to do.
They pushed me out, but before I knew it, I was flying again.
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