Dan Rather, a fixture as head anchor on the CBS Evening News for many years, was not invited to participate in CBS News' 50th anniversary of the John F. Kennedy assassination broadcast on Nov. 22.
CBS has was right to keep their distance from Rather, the affective media figure responsible for the most counterfactual news report in the hours after the Kennedy assassination. Rather, at the time a green newscaster who worked at a Texas television station, earned his stripes with the Kennedy assassination but did so at the price of the truth.
Rather was the only reporter to view the Zapruder film the day after the assassination. In this situation, he was an all-important set of eyes from the fourth estate, a voice the public could trust. He issued an erroneous, purposely falsified statement concerning the film. Following the final shot, the head of Kennedy in Rather's angled report "went forward with considerable violence," a description that anyone with eyesight in the fifty years following the assassination would find to be a blatant lie.
As seen clearly on the Zapruder film, which was not shown to the public until 1975, the final shot jarred Kennedy's head back and to the left. Rather, and Rather alone, is responsible for the intentional misinterpretation of the Zapruder film.
In 1993, CBS anchorman Dan Rather confessed to Robert Tannenbaum, the former deputy chief counsel of the House Select Committee on Assassinations: "We really blew it on the Kennedy assassination."
The snubbing by CBS is not only justified for botching the report of the most important piece of evidence of the 20th century but also, in the opinion of The Hollywood Reporter's Michael Rosenblum, due to a lack of professionalism and candor to his fellow reporters on the day of the assassination.
Rosenblum recounts a story from CBS News' White House correspondent Bob Pierpont, who was riding in the presidential motorcade with Rather when JFK was shot. Rather, the local reporter, was sent out to give Pierpont a hand. After the ambush on the president, Pierpont, the diligent journalist, went on to Parkland Hospital to get the story; Rather, vanished back to studio, in front of the cameras, to wait on the scoop.
At Parkland, Pierpont was the first reporter to discover the president was dead; in the studio, Rather was one of the first reporters to take credit.
Rosenblum nails Rather's grandstanding during CBS News' 25th anniversary commemoration:
But as he [Pierpont] and I sat and watched the program, all you could hear on the archival footage on TV -- from Dallas to Lee Harvey Oswald to the funeral itself, was Bob Pierpoint's voice, narrating pretty much every event as it happened. And why not? He was the reporter. He was there. Not Rather.
But never once, in any of that Special Broadcast, did Dan Rather even once have the courtesy to mention Bob Pierpoint's name.
So I will mention it here -- just to keep the record straight.
Rather, as a reporter, not only got the facts wrong, but stole credit for the important reportage in the early hours following the assassination. If real reporters had been given the responsibility of Rather, perhaps the reporting would have been handled much more responsibly.