Dan Rather says he has spent his entire life in fear – fear that his bosses would realize he has loved his work so much, he would have done it for free.
“For heaven’s sake, don’t print that,” Rather says with a laugh.
It’s a safe bet that if his bosses haven’t picked up on Rather’s passion for journalism by now, he’s in the clear. The Texas native has been reporting the news for 66 years starting in 1950 with The Associated Press in Huntsville, Texas.
Rather has worked in print, radio and television. At 84, he’s still on the job: “The Big Interview With Dan Rather” airs at 9 p.m. Tuesdays on the AXS cable channel. The series is in its fourth season.
This week, Rather sits down with Russell Simmons. Country music stars Big & Rich are on Feb. 16.
“There are a lot of things where I can be dumb as a brick but I’m at least smart enough to know I’ve been very lucky and mightily blessed,” Rather says.
He spent 24 years as anchor for the “CBS Evening News” plus contributing to the network’s “60 Minutes.” During the ’80s and ’90s, Rather, Peter Jennings and Tom Brokaw were the three biggest names in news.
Rather left CBS after 43 years in 2006, not long after his report on President George W. Bush’s service in the National Guard was disputed.
That incident didn’t cool Rather’s passion for journalism.
There are a lot of things where I can be dumb as a brick but I’m at least smart enough to know I’ve been very lucky and mightily blessed.
“One of the surprises about getting older is that the fire burns greater and harder now than it did earlier because you have a better perspective,” Rather says. “To be able to do what I have passionately wanted to do since I was a child is a blessing.”
The only change in his approach is that while Rather is always looking for the next big story, he’s slowed down enough that he’s not always able to chase it. With his cable interview show, Rather’s not as much involved with breaking news as he is interviewing celebrities and newsmakers. In almost every case, he’s sitting down with people who have been interviewed countless times before.
The trick, says Rather, is to make his interviews feel fresh.
“I have a lot of flaws and made a lot of mistakes, but I’ve always been curious,” Rather says. “That’s one of the reasons I got into journalism and one of the reasons I’ve stayed in it.
“Many of these people have been interviewed thousands of times. When they realize you are curious and not there with just a list of questions, that is the No. 1 thing. You have to be a distinct listener as answers to questions provide me with other questions.”
Rather has interviewed the famous and not-so-famous. In the beginning, he says, he was worried whether he could be as interested in an interview if he didn’t know a lot about the person. Turns out, Rather says his curiosity is piqued most by those who aren’t well-known.
Either way, nothing is more important to Rather than “preparation, preparation, preparation.”
Will he slow down? Probably not. Rather quotes an old saying that the good cowboy “is always crying for daylight,” meaning they can’t wait for the first chance to do their job. Rather says he cries for daylight every day.
“Any morning I wake up and I don’t see dirt, I know how lucky I am.”
The Big Interview With Dan Rather
- 5 p.m. Tuesdays, AXS