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Dan Rather's Still Sticking by His Guns, Pard ...

Dan Rather.

Still here? Think you might hang around a little longer while I type about the one-time CBS news anchorman and all-time polarizing figure, or click to a less controversial subject like health care reform?

Rather was a guest over the weekend of a questioner named Julie Menin, on a show she hosts on New York's NBC affiliate called "Give and Take."

No, I hadn't heard of it, either, but I enjoyed the interview, and thought the interviewer, Menin, showed the uncommon ability in these yak-it-up days of TV journalism to ask a question and then shut up and listen for a change.

Of course with Dan Rather on the other side of the questions, listening is more an absolute than an option.

Admittedly, I don't mind Rather. Sorry.

If you can get past his occasional penchant for pompousness, and overly done down-homey Texas bull he feels obligated to toss around like some horseshoe, there is much to be learned when he opens his internal archives that are stashed with 50-or-so years of high-profile journalism experience.

Rather is also one of the regulars on the talk circuit these days from the 70-and-over crowd (Ted Koppel would be another who comes to mind) who are quite critical of the state of journalism these days. I think this is something news people do as they get older. Cronkite did it, too.

Rather, a youngish 78, thinks that, "there is a crisis in American journalism."

Crisis might be a strong word for it, but I'm pretty much in his corner on that one, and I'm only in my 50s.

I guess in the end, Dan Rather reminds me a lot of that old acquaintance who comes in and out of your life. When you get together after a long separation you wonder why the hell you weren't seeing more of each other. After seeing more of each other you remember why you needed to be apart.

All things were discussed in the interview with Menin, including a rumored co-mingling of CNN and CBS News; Fox News; Larry King; and the infamous George W. Bush/Texas Air National Guard story in the run-up to the 2004 election that ultimately sent him down the road to do shows like this one.

I'd suggest you just go off and watch the 18-minute interview, but know you have better things to do like snarl at a media guy going on about Rather, so I'll just go through some highlights ...

I am pretty sure his teeth weren't clenched when he gave several nods to Fox News saying, they are "good broadcasters."

Alluding to the killer TV ratings at Roger Ailes' empire he said "You are what your record is."

Rather seemed to mostly like the idea of a much-talked about deal that would bring CNN and CBS together saying, "it makes sense in theory," though alluding to the enormous size of each company and the even bigger egos at each place said coyly, "In the end somebody has to run it ... and who's going to have the final say?"

Rather, who comes off as a very serious guy when not spinning anecdotes about armadillos and three-wheeled tractors, thought that CNN was making a mistake if it strayed from its "serious" roots.

"Nobody has really gone hard after the serious audience," he said.

He then took that cue, and sounding more like a marketer than a newshound, alluded to the station's unofficial brand of "We're the place for serious journalism," saying "... if you are going make that your slogan you must deliver on it."

It was obvious he had given more than just a little thought to this merger, and even suggested some obvious staff moves he might make, like moving Katie Couric, who he called an "excellent interviewer" into Larry King's chair, who he then saw fit to vigorously defend.

He probably should have just quit with the moving-Couric-into-King's-chair part ...

In the end he said, "There's little at CNN that can't be fixed."

What probably will never be fixed is the damage that was done to Rather's reputation after his reporting on the CBS show "60 Minutes" on George W. Bush's stint in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War.

Rather still stands behind the story, which came out shortly before the 2004 presidential election, saying in the interview it, "is true -- period."

Maybe, but any way you slice it, the reporting Rather's team did on the story was shoddy.

It was never going to hold up under the tremendous scrutiny it was bound to get -- especially since Rather had by that time already been appointed the commanding general of the left-wing media.

An independent board hired by CBS later came down hard on the station and the methods used by Rather's team to gather information for the story. Rather resigned in early-2005, earlier than expected, and under a cloud.

To this day, he smells a very big rat.

"Very big business is in bed with very big government in Washington," he said, overtly hinting that pressure was put on CBS by the Bush Administration to hang Rather out to dry for that story.

Rather thinks that because so much of the news is controlled by so few, news organizations might be loath to go hard at controversial stories they used to for fear of biting the hand that feeds them.

"CBS News had a long tradition of standing by what it reported," he said, "and in this instance for the first time in history they didn't back their reporters ... they didn't back their journalism -- they caved."

So now I am wondering that with so much partisanship in so much of the media these days, might even the biggest critic of Dan Rather at least give him the credit for being a man ahead of his time?

(Got a tip, a gripe, or some kudos? Send 'em along.)