The signoff was largely and justly derided when Dan Rather first used it on a newscast early in his tenure as an anchor. But last night, it somehow worked.
"To our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines in dangerous places. To those who have endured the tsunami and to all who have suffered natural disasters and who must now find the will to rebuild.
"To the oppressed and to those whose lot it is to struggle in financial hardship or in failing health. To my fellow journalists in places where reporting the truth means risking all.
"And to each of you. Courage."
It was a subdued valedictory. But then again, it was vintage Rather. It wasn't about him. It was all about the story. His enemies, who look under every rock for liberal media bias and no doubt felt Rather had been taunting them for over 30 years, had to be chastened.
To the end, Rather averted the spotlight from himself and his own troubles, and made a dignified exit. That came as no surprise to those who knew him and worked with him, as I did on occasion. The same goes for viewers of the CBS Evening News for the last 24 years, at least those who tuned in for the news and didn't parse words trying to decrypt secret messages from the liberal cabal.
If Rather went out on a high note, it was the network that stumbled at the end. Rather and other correspondents went through the first 20 minutes of the show as if nothing unusual was happening. But when he signed off, there was a wide shot of dozens of staffers converging for what would be a 10-minute standing ovation.
Instead, CBS cut away from the reverie for the nightly Wal-Mart promo before returning to the applause. One thinks CBS could have given the folks in Bentonville a make-good and would not have caught flack for letting the eight-second read slide for a night. This was not just another newscast. This was news.