Move Follows Summer's Flawed Presidential Service Record Report

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Dan Rather is stepping down after 24 years as the anchor of the CBS Evening News, the Viacom network said today. Mr. Rather last night behind the desk will be March 2005, but he will remain as a correspondent for CBS News.
Photo: AP
Dan Rather said the time is right to step down.

Summer discussions
In a statement, Mr. Rather said, "I have always said that I'd know when the time was right to step away from the anchor chair. This past summer, CBS and I began to discuss this matter in earnest -- and we decided that the close of the election cycle would be an appropriate time."

Contenders to take over the anchor chair include Scott Pelley, a 60 Minutes correspondent.

Mr. Rather joined CBS News in 1962 and handled some of the most poignant news stories in history. He covered the death of President Kennedy and the fall of the Berlin Wall. More recently, Mr. Rather traveled to Baghdad to cover the transfer of power to the Iraqi government, and as part of the 60 Minutes II team broke news one of the biggest stories of the year, the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.

Embarassing election controversy
However, news of Mr. Rather's departure comes as CBS News emerges from one of its most difficult periods. 60 Minutes II aired a controversial report during the presidential election race that raised questions about President Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard. Mr. Rather fronted the report, which was found to be based on forged documents. CBS News has set up an inquiry to look into the matter, and has not yet reported its findings.

Mr. Rather is the second veteran news anchor to step down. NBC's Tom Brokaw relinquishes the anchor chair at the end of the month, handing the reigns to Brian Williams. That leaves ABC's Peter Jennings as the most familiar face in broadcast network news.

Changing role of TV news
Mr. Rather's departure adds to the discussion about the changing role of the network news broadcasts, which air at 6:30 p.m. on the East Coast and earlier in other regions in an era where many get their news from online sources at work or through 24-hour cable news outlets.

According to ratings data provided by Horizon Media, New York, CBS Evening News has lost almost 1 million viewers in four years and has lagged behind ratings leader NBC and ABC for many years. In 2000, CBS's evening news broadcast attracted, on average, 8.3 million viewers compared with 9.7 million for ABC and 10.2 million for NBC. Year-to-date 2004, CBS has pulled in 7.4 million viewers, while ABC attracted 9.1 million and NBC drew 10 million.

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