There is little doubt that Dan Rather has become something of a lightning rod over the years. The man has a knack for controversy. I shall not recount here the sordid details of the last big story he covered. In a career marked by moments of sheer brilliance, he dropped the ball. It's a reminder that in this profession, one is only as good as his or her last story.
Still, I am saddened to see him unceremoniously dumped by the news organization for which he worked for more than 40 years and that he fronted for 24.
When I began my television career in Texas, I didn't have much formal education. I learned by studying the television broadcasters I admired. As best I could, I tried to absorb Brinkley's acerbic wit, Cronkite's authority, Kuralt's gift for writing. The list of those from whom I have stolen goes on and on, but the guy I watched most closely was this pistol of a reporter on CBS named Rather. There was something about the way he addressed the camera — a focus and an intensity that grabbed your attention. When he was on the screen you could not look away. Like you, I watched his daring reports from Vietnam — his bold coverage of the Nixon White House — and who could forget those take-no-prisoner "60 Minutes" pieces he turned over the years.
I devoured his book, "The Camera Never Blinks." My heart raced each time I read his account of what it was like to be a reporter on the scene in Dallas on the day that President Kennedy was assassinated. In my mind, Dan was the man. I vowed that, like Dan Rather, I would one day become a Washington correspondent for a major news organization.
I even came to enjoy the folksy Dan Rather that emerged over the years. He became something of a character, who would spit out bits of homespun wisdom that became known as "Rather-isms." One election night he said, "If a frog had side pockets, he'd carry a handgun." I still don't quite know what that means, but it made me chuckle.
I've had the opportunity to meet Mr. Rather at a couple of social events. They were brief encounters in which I gushed like a schoolgirl with a crush — and he was unfailingly polite. One of my great memories is of standing on the lawn of Capitol Hill one day in the late 80's — taping what we call a "stand up." I heard behind me a familiar voice. I turned around to find Rather taping anchor intros for the "CBS Evening News." I watched in amazement as he nailed take after take — studying the copy only briefly between takes (a skill I have never mastered). The man is a total pro in the field.
I don't know what is next for Dan Rather. I wish him well in whatever endeavor he pursues. But I could not let this moment pass without saying thanks for inspiring a young kid from West Texas. I suspect there are many broadcasters of my generation who feel the same way.
“Weekend Live” hosted by Brian Wilson airs 12 – 2 p.m. ET on Saturdays and Sundays.
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Brian Wilson is a congressional correspondent for FOX News and anchor of the Sunday edition of "Weekend Live."