NEW YORK (AP) — Dan Rather, the hard-charging embodiment of CBS News who saw his reputation damaged by an ill-fated report on President Bush’s National Guard service, said yesterday he will step down as “CBS Evening News” anchor in March after nearly a quarter-century in the job.

Rather, 73, will become a correspondent for both editions of “60 Minutes,” saying he looked forward to “pouring my heart” into investigative reporting.

John Roberts and Scott Pelley are frequently mentioned as in-house candidates to succeed him, but CBS News — a distant third in evening news ratings behind NBC and ABC — also will look elsewhere.

Rather replaced broadcast legend Walter Cronkite in 1981 and lasted even longer than his predecessor’s 19 years. Rather, Tom Brokaw of NBC and Peter Jennings of ABC competed at the top ranks of network news for more than two decades as the world — and world of news — changed around them. Brokaw leaves NBC’s “Nightly News” next week.

Rather told viewers about his exit midway through his newscast yesterday. “It has been, and remains, an honor to be welcomed into your homes in the evening and I thank you for the trust you have given me,” he said.

After some bumps that included walking off a broadcast, an eyebrow-raising mugging and attracting ridicule by briefly signing off his newscast with the word “courage,” a September “60 Minutes Wednesday” story about Bush’s service that turned out to be based on allegedly forged documents forced Rather to fight for his professional life.

Independent investigators are looking into what went wrong with the story, and their report is considered imminent.

Rather told The Associated Press that the guard story had nothing to do with his announcement.

“Everybody will have their own thoughts about this, but … this was a separate decision apart from that,” he said in an interview.

Discussions with CBS management about when he would leave began in 1999, were shelved after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and then renewed last summer, Rather said. He said he and CBS Chairman Leslie Moonves agreed his departure would be sometime early next year and Rather settled on March 9 — the 24th anniversary of when he succeeded Cronkite.

CBS News and Rather were undoubtedly weighing whether timing the announcement before or after the investigative panel’s release would be better, said Ken Auletta, media columnist for The New Yorker magazine.

 

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