CBS News shut anchorman Dan Rather out of the Oklahoma City story last week, and Rather is not happy about it, sources close to the situation have told The New York Daily News.
They said the decision to send coanchor Connie Chung to Oklahoma only deepened Rather’s concern that the “CBS Evening News” has become primarily focused on rebuilding Chung’s image and expanding her role.
Rather was on vacation at the time of the blast, but sources said he called early on and said he was available. With Chung already en route to the scene, CBS executives decided to keep Rather on the sidelines.
Besides getting the Oklahoma City assignment, easily the biggest breaking news story of the year, Chung recently anchored the network’s coverage of House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s prime-time speech to the nation.
She also interviewed Sen. Robert Dole after he announced his presidential candidacy, and she’s been getting meatier stories to read on the weeknight broadcast over the last several weeks than she did previously.
Other well-placed sources at CBS News, however, suggested that the real problem at the “Evening News” was the nearly impossible challenge of balancing the interests of its two anchors without seeming to favor either.
At the very least, a deep division has developed within the ranks of the broadcast.
One side firmly believes that Rather is being sacrificed to the need to build Chung’s credibility. The other side believes that management is trying to enhance Chung’s stature but has no desire to diminish Rather in the process.
Rather, still traveling, was unavailable for comment.
Andrew Heyward, executive producer of the “Evening News,” dismissed the notion of any campaign to build up Chung at Rather’s expense and explained that Chung’s role in Oklahoma City was largely a matter of timing.
“Obviously, Dan would have done a superb job,” Heyward said. “He’s the greatest reporter of his generation. But I happen to be blessed with two excellent reporters as my anchors, and I think that our coverage was strong.”
Heyward said that on Tuesday morning, Rather was on vacation in Texas prior to traveling to Vietnam on assignment. Chung was in Sacramento about to leave on another assignment but, knowing Rather was on vacation, called Heyward when she heard about the Oklahoma City bombing.
“I made a split-second decision to send her,” Heyward said. “By the time I tracked Dan down later in the day, he and I agreed that we were covered.”
As for any campaign to build Chung’s credibility, Heyward said, “I don’t think that’s an accurate perception. Connie has covered a fair number of stories recently.
“Part of that is that Dan was off in Asia shooting a documentary and during that time the (Republican Congress’) 100 days came to an end. So Connie did a number of Washington stories.
“What we’re really trying to do here,” Heyward said, “is cover the news and use these two great assets to the greatest advantage.”