CBS News broke all viewership records last night, beating the audiences of NBC, ABC, Al-Jazeerah, Charlie Rose, and the Al Franken Show combined. What a grisly affair. By our count, 73 percent of those viewers were watching Dan Rather for the first time, drawn to their screens like looters to a disaster, having to see for themselves what bias looks like after it has crashed, burned and vaporized. CBS produced no one to offer counseling or even to provide a number to a trauma hotline. The solemnity was stifling. We are a nation in recovery.
Darling Dan proved magnanimous. In a gesture to President Bush, he exploited the tragedy of September 11 as no one has attempted to since the GOP convention. We even were shown long-suppressed footage of the attacks of that day. We can expect Dan to set up shop at Ground Zero. Did you see how his hair was combed extra carefully, how the makeup on his face seemed to carry an extra layer or two, how he came out in his finest Sunday suit? Not every man is fortunate enough to officiate at his own professional burial. It marked the end of a very long ego-trip.
Some saw the appearance of Naderite Joan Claybrook as a gesture to CBS's most faithful viewers. We saw it differently. Claybrook was critical of the credit card companies that have the cheek to bill credit card holders for the purchases they make on their cards. But this was no kneejerk populist gesture. Claybrook was rising to the occasion. If we're losing Dan, why go on? Eat, drink, and be merry, she signaled, for tomorrow we shall die, Danless. Raise up our glasses, run up our credit cards, live for today, carpe per diem.
It took courage to resuscitate "Courage!" And shrewdness, as a diversion from Dan's subliminal use of "frequency." All that cunning Dan acquired during his Gunga days came in handy.
The worry now is that Dan might feel called upon to become the next Pope. Why else did he extend courage "to the oppressed and to those whose lot it is to struggle in financial hardship or in failing health." Either that or he intends to run as Hillary's veep or come back as Mother Teresa.
Okay, no more piling on, right? Remember, Dan was speaking in a state of shock, having been rejected not only by his network, but by Uncle Walter Cronkite, who before this week never had an unkind word to say about anyone.
Yesterday we were all set to ask former President Jimmy Carter to console our friend. The Washington Post saved us from making a rash decision. It turns out that kisses from Jimmy may not be in great demand. Back in 1990, the paper reported, he intervened on behalf of Habitat for Humanity's founder, whom some suspected was a sexual harasser. Not so, said Jimmy, drawing on his own experience. Here's how the Post described the Carter's peculiar proclivities and unfortunate encounters:
In the March 26, 1990, letter, Carter said he himself was given to physical displays of affection and appreciation, such as kisses on the cheek and hugs, to women he knew professionally and socially that were sometimes not welcomed. He wrote that he shook hands with several men and hugged and kissed several women at the dedication of the John F. Kennedy Library in 1979 and that the late president's widow had "visibly flinched" at his actions.
Poor Jackie. Why wasn't Teddy around to protect her? Actually, Jimmy's own words make it sound that he's mighty lucky he never hired Anita Hill:
"Without minimizing in any way the significance of what has happened at Habitat, let me say quite frankly that I have had some similar kinds of relationships with some of my own female employees and associates. If one ever complained officially, there could be an avalanche of similar charges," Carter wrote in the letter...
Say this for Dan: he was difficult, but no one ever accused him of being a dirty old man!