Friday, June 23, 2006

Going Out with a Whimper

Reality often is stranger than fiction, the saying goes. An author writing the story of former anchor partners Dan Rather and Connie Chung's lives would never have had the temerity to have them both get canned within a week of each other. Not after the two's well-known history of bickering and fighting with each other. Yet that's exactly what happened. Seattle Post-Intelligencer TV critic Melanie McFarland looks back at the twighlight of both discarded anchors (Diskussionsleitersdämmerung?), realizing that between Rather's delusions and Chung's bizarre singing debut, the former duo provide another lesson in how not to behave:

More than a decade has passed since Dan Rather and Connie Chung had us shaking our heads at the obvious tension when they briefly shared an anchor desk between 1993 and 1995.

Rather won in the end, using a nasty behind-the-scenes campaign to force out his co-anchor. He remained at CBS; she jumped to ABC and later to cable.

Nobody would have guessed their separate and drastically declined careers would share headlines again -- and in the same week. [...]

Many are the lessons of how to begin a journalism career. These two showed us how not to end one. Different as their career trajectories may have been for a time, Chung and Rather's respective undoings are, in the end, the same. They held on for too long. And you know what happens when you overstay your welcome: You get cast out with a rough push instead of a friendly wave.

This is truer of Rather's departure, of course. Given his inglorious step down from CBS's anchor chair, a muffled exit was inevitable. The 74-year-old newscaster insists he's not done and has announced his intention to host a weekly interview program on Mark Cuban's high-definition channel, HDNet, where he will be watched by a few thousand, if he's lucky. He told The New York Times that he's contemplating a blog.

Which means, to you and me, that he's done. [...]

It's not all misery for the once-formidable Chung. We're talking about her again, aren't we? For that she can thank the tool that has become the bane of evening newscasts and 24-hour cable news alike, the Internet. Chung's William Hung moment went viral over the weekend, and by Wednesday had logged in nearly 540,000 views on -- more than double the MSNBC audience for "Maury & Connie's" series finale, which hovered somewhere around 264,000.

But if these pitiful moments underscore anything, it is the growling irrelevancy of network news. Millions still tune in each night. But millions more have abandoned it because they're not home to watch or because they get their news from news radio, from NPR or the Internet. Plus, nobody needs to be told that broadcast and cable reporters and anchors aren't the fearless crusaders they used to be. The journalistic Rottweilers of yesteryear have been replaced by puggles. Where politicians once feared the wrath of Walter Cronkite, now they dodge correspondents from "The Daily Show."

Bloggers inform a great deal of the mainstream reporting happening these days. The idea of Rather mulling over the idea of a blog at this late date is somewhat laughable. [...]

So, good night, Connie. Good luck, Dan. And, all right, thanks for the memories, even if it would have been better for you, and for us, to have lived without the final batch.

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