Dan Rather Once Walked Off-Set, Leaving Nothing To Air For Six Minutes

Dan Rather Once Walked Off-Set, Leaving Nothing To Air For Six Minutes

Late in 1987, the Pope was visiting the United States, and CBS set up a special temporary studio in Miami so Dan Rather could cover the event. September 11, 1987, also happened to be the day for the semifinals of the US Open for Women's Singles in tennis, and we don't know how big a deal that sounds today, but CBS was committing to broadcasting it live.

At 6:15, fifteen minutes before the evening news was supposed to start, CBS Sports called the Miami studio to say the match was running long, and they'd need to push the news broadcast a little. Dan Rather objected, and the sports division walked it back a bit and said they'd take just two minutes to wrap up their coverage. Two minutes was still too much, said Rather, and if they couldn't broadcast at 6:30 sharp, he wouldn't be there to broadcast at all.

At 6:32, CBS switched over from sports to its Miami feed. And there was nothing there. As promised, Dan Rather had stepped out of the studio. The papal coverage actually started with a taped segment (mostly, commenting on the weather), so someone could have popped that in even without Rather to introduce it, but no one did. 

So, many viewers saw just a blank screen for the next six minutes. Some affiliates switched to a game show rerun, and they went on airing it even after Dan Rather eventually came back and started talking as though nothing strange had happened.

At the time, this was seen as an unprofessional tantrum, not as a crusader sticking it to the man. The next year, Rather was interviewing George H.W. Bush live and brought up the Iran–Contra affair. Bush brushed this off as a single mistake, saying, "Dan, how would you like it if I judged your entire career by those seven minutes when you walked off the set?"

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Top image: CBS

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