Monday, June 19, 2006

What I Did to Dan Rather

Texas state flag (Rather image added)

"If a frog had side pockets, he'd carry a hand gun." Dan Rather

It appears to be official. CBS has dumped all over Dan Rather. Which reminds of the time I did the same thing. Well, not exactly the same. But close.

Here's my story.

I first met Rather in the 70's along with other high profile news names ... Peter Jennings, John Chancellor, Johnny Apple, David Broder, even Walter Cronkite. Each had his own quirks and um, issues -- we'll get to them another time. Well, not Broder, he's a true gentleman and scholar.

Rather stood out. He was arrogant, self-centered and a total pain in the ass. Dan was the kind of guy you just wanted to smack upside the head on a regular basis.

No question though, he was a thorough professional. Dedicated. Hard working. Savvy and knowledgeable despite the ubiquitous Texas twang, colloquialisms, attitude.

My story takes place at a legendary venue -- the LBJ ranch. Lyndon Johnson, though no longer president, was still a powerful force in the democratic party.

A fundraiser was being held at the ranch. It was like a scene from the movie Giant. Well-dressed, well-heeled Democratic supporters stood around the huge lawn chatting in groups as chefs prepared a roasting pig and other traditional pit-smoked Texas edibles. Waiters circulated with drinks and trays of hors d'oeuvres.

I felt privileged to be there. Working, but still enjoying the historic surroundings and the opportunity to interact with a veritable Who's Who of Democratic and media luminaries.

A dream scenario for a young, green press aide. About to become a greener nightmare.

Rather was in his element, bragging about all things Texan. I somehow got stuck standing next to him as he sucked up the oxygen with his endless down-home anecdotes. A waiter stopped at our group and offered a tray.

I surveyed the goodies and was about to take a crab puff when Rather interrupted himself long enough to say, "Try this one, it's different, real Texas food."

He selected a cracker with some sort of meat on it and handed it to me. Raised to be a lady, I had no choice but to take it.

As I bit into the morsel and began to chew, I asked innocently, "What is this?"

"Rattlesnake," the waiter just as innocently replied. Rather was smiling, waiting for my reaction.

Can you see it coming? It's not pretty.

That particular hors d'oeuvre--and everything else I'd eaten that day--ejected itself from my body with MAC 10 force.

All over Dan Rather's shoes.

Really. All over. You couldn't see an inch of shoe leather.

I felt like the girl from The Exorcist. Not to mention totally humiliated.

Needless to say, silence ensued. The kind of silence you can cut with a knife.

Then I heard a voice say the magic words that saved my dignity. As much as that was possible.

"Oh, it's nothing. That ass Rather got another girl to eat some rattlesnake."

Postscript: Dan Rather has made an enormous contribution to CBS and to the news business in general. In spite of his monumental Memogate mistake, he's had a long and distinguished career.

As much as I wasn't too fond of him personally, I do hate to see CBS upchuck all over him.

Especially because for a long time, that was my own particular distinction.

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