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Dan Rather: a pioneer and a lightning rod

Wednesday night marks the final evening newscast of a journalist who never lost his drive.

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It was a Texas hurricane that swept Dan Rather into the national spotlight. For those who watched him report from the Galveston Seawall that September of 1961, it helped forge a reputation for tenacity that would follow him for life.

"You saw the wind and rain around him. That was the first time a news person stayed on the coast," says Burlon Parsons, lifestyle editor for The Wharton Journal-Spectator, the local Texas newspaper of Rather's birthplace. "That's what I liked about him the most."

Nearly a half century later, events in Texas have again marked a pivotal moment for Mr. Rather, and highlight the other charge that has dogged his career: accusations of liberal bias. When the veteran anchor stood behind a flawed story on President Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard, many claimed it was a sign of partiality.

Wednesday night, when he anchors his last evening newscast, the more than 40-year legacy that stands between these bookends, during which he's led the nation through the assassination of former President Kennedy, the impeachment of Richard Nixon, and the tragedy of 9/11, remains decidedly mixed. While some say events of the past half-year will forever mar his credibility, many others say his place in the journalistic history will be as the ultimate reporter.

"He added to the tradition of the fearless reporter," says Barry Jagoda, who was a senior producer at CBS News during the Watergate scandal when Rather was a reporter there. "He was always ready to go, leave home and his family, and go wherever the crisis was.... We saw that down to the end."

For now, Rather's critics have been unrelenting - in stark contrast to the retirement of NBC anchor Tom Brokaw late last year. One website, www.ratherbiased.com, is counting the seconds until Rather's final newscast.

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