WASHINGTON — Dan Rather, the longest-serving and most outspoken of the major network news anchors, recently served as the star attraction at a Democratic Party fund-raiser.
Donors paid as much as $1,000 for a private evening in Austin, Texas, with the CBS newsman, according to an invitation obtained by the Washington Post. Rather's appearance at the March 21 gathering generated about $20,000 for the Travis County Democratic Party--and will undoubtedly provide ammunition to critics who have long accused Rather of leaning to the left.
Rather said Tuesday that he hadn't realized beforehand that the event was a fund-raiser. "I didn't ask the question, and I should have," he said in an interview. "I take full responsibility for it. I'm responsible and I'm accountable."
But the Texas native stopped short of calling his appearance a mistake or saying he would not have attended had he known in advance that he was being used to raise money.
Acknowledging that he didn't want to sound like Al Gore at a Buddhist temple, Rather said: "When I got there, I was very aware that it was a fund-raising event. I'm not going to say I had no idea what was going on. . . . If someone wants to fault me for that, I wouldn't blame them."
Rather said he agreed to discuss election coverage at the invitation of an old friend, Austin City Council member Will Wynn, who drew 150 people to the event in his backyard. Rather was not paid for his appearance. Other hosts included Scott Ozmun, the county Democratic chairman, and Robin Rather, the anchor's daughter and a Texas environmentalist and marketing executive.
The Austin American-Statesman said Robin Rather is considering a run for mayor and has been consulting with another host of the event, David Butts, a campaign advisor to Mayor Kirk Watson.
Asked for comment Tuesday night, CBS News spokeswoman Sandy Genelius said: "Obviously our standards don't allow correspondents to participate in political party fund-raisers. No one believes in this and upholds it more fervently than Dan Rather. This was an honest oversight on his part."
Rather, who maintains a home in the Austin area, noted that the night before he sat with Texas Gov. Rick Perry at an arts dinner and posed for a picture with the Republican.
"This is part of what I do--I circulate among politicians," he said. "Over a long period of time, I've met with political groups large and small, Democratic and Republican, Green Party, mugwumps, you name it, because that's what reporters do."
Rather said he "wouldn't be surprised" if critics use the incident to call him a closet Democrat. "I'm going to get that criticism whether I deserve it or not."