Two of the most influential TV news personalities of the last quarter-century have effectively closed out their careers to unprecedented ridicule and derision in the past week.
We won’t bother linking to all the horrible things written about Dan Rather and Connie Chung — but here’s a compact summary of the conventional wisdom from Melanie McFarland of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:
Nobody would have guessed their separate and drastically declined careers would share headlines again — and in the same week. As for which wins the competition for most pathetic, you be the judge… 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.
We beg to differ. Let us explain the real reasons for their undoings:
1. Rather has been the subject of a vicious, single-minded hate campaign from the political right for years. “Memogate” is a relatively minor infraction in the context of the many tales of plagiarism, advertiser cave-ins, newsroom layoffs, and other real journalistic sins documented on Romenesko every day. But the political pressure — together with Rather’s age and declining ratings — did him in. Rather might be the last of the journalist-anchormen; he deserved to be celebrated for that, rather than ridiculed for minor or phantom deficiencies, on his exit.
2. Chung’s career declined because she got older, and viewers don’t like to watch older women read the news — period. The trend toward hot young babes behind anchor desks continues unabated and unashamedly. Chung has been derided for her “Thanks for the Memories” joke; it shows that she has “diminished skills” and is no longer taken seriously, we’re told. Who are you kidding? We’ll take Connie on top of a piano compared to grandstanding hotties like Julie Banderas shrieking at their guests. And believe us, Banderas’ star is on the rise.
No — Dan Rather and Connie Chung are not to be blamed for the undignified final chapters of their careers. We are.