Monday, June 19, 2006

Gunga Dan---the Phony Man

Howard Kurtz has a nice little unintentional send-up of the late unlamented, still-undeparted Dan Rather by one of Rather's few admirers, a TV writer named David Blum.
"The CBS executives who leaked the story of Dan Rather's imminent exit from the news division to Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post today clearly despise the former anchorman. They blame him for the 2004 National Guard documents scandal that tarnished the reputation of CBS News. They hate him for the ratings slide of the CBS Evening News that began in the final years of his tenure. They resent him for his oddball persona, his addiction to the red light of the camera, and his multi-million-dollar annual salary."

Howie asks, quite rightly: "I just wonder how Blum can be so sure of the motivation of sources I haven't named." Howie obviously hasn't bought Ann Coulter's book Godless, which explains liberal omniscience and infallibility. Blum blubbers on:
"It all seems a bit harsh when you consider his enormous contributions to the history of television news -- his reporting from the front lines of hurricanes, assassinations and wars; his classic confrontations with Richard Nixon during Watergate; his memorable '60 Minutes' stories that helped the show achieve its first number-one Nielsen rating in 1975, and even his absurdist but groundbreaking 'Gunga Dan' reporting from Afghanistan in 1979. In light of those legendary achievements, it seems coldhearted and callous for CBS to cast Rather out so mercilessly, and so publicly, in the twilight of his career . . .

Actually, during my short career as a TV producer, I went on a two-month shoot in Saudi Arabia around 1980 along with a key grip/cameraman who had accompanied Gunga Dan on his fabled trip to Afghanistan. The fellow, a sincere truthful guy who later worked on the TV series COPS, told me that the whole crew had never gone more than 10 miles outside Peshawar in the NWF of Pakistan. CBS had hired a bunch of Paki movie set extras and had serious sound effects accompanying Dan as he intrepidly lay supine while describing the mayhem nearby. The fellow told me Rather was a prima donna showman spoiled silly by his CBS groupie/roadie crew. Blum blubbers on s'more:
"For anyone who knows Rather -- and that includes just about everyone in America, thanks to his highly personal style and his longevity -- it's going to be sad to imagine him wandering around the streets of New York, searching for the red light of a camera. Maybe there ought to be a kinder way for business executives to treat legends of the news business -- at least by doing something nicer than leaking stories of their dismissal to media reporters hungry to cover the latest casualty of progress."

Again, the unintentional irony of this clueless idolator Blum spills over when one remembers that Dan was assaulted by two well-dressed men in midtown Manhattan who said "Kenneth, what's the frequency?" An ABC colleague at CSIS who sheep-dipped on Nightline told me that this attack was revenge for one of Dan's many adulterous escapades in Babylon on the Hudson. A female friend of my ABC buddy had been jilted by Dan a couple of years before and knew a lot of Dan's back pages.
Howie Kurtz, speaking ironically, ends his little schtick in gratitude for having a dork-wad like Blum to skewer:
"Speaking for this hungry reporter, sometimes stories aren't just handed to you."

Dan Rather is a casualty of progress delayed. He should have been sh**canned in the declining ratings of the Tisch era, but as a third friend in the TV business told me:

"Dan Rather speaks with a slight lisp because his tongue had to be surgically removed from Larry Tisch's ass."

That sums up aggressive imbecile Rather's career quite well, I believe.

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