NEW YORK – Just days before he’s due to step down as anchor of the “CBS Evening News,” Dan Rather admitted the constant attacks on his credibility and career occasionally get to him.

“No rhinoceros has a hide so thick that some well-placed, hard-thrown, pointed spear can’t get under it,” Rather told the New York Daily News.

Dealing with the criticism comes with the turf of being a hard-nosed, hard news reporter, according to Rather.

And he doesn’t expect it to change much after Wednesday night, his last as anchor of the “CBS Evening News.”

The night will mark 24 years to the day that he replaced Walter Cronkite – and comes after months of dealing with the fallout from a flawed “60 Minutes Wednesday” report on President Bush’s military career.

The 73-year-old Rather, during a wide-ranging interview with The Daily News, said he felt good and had none of the emotional jitters others suggested he might get at this point.

“I’m not retiring,” said Rather, who’ll return to full-time reporting for the “60 Minutes” franchise. “I’m changing jobs.

“For better or worse, I’m a big-game hunter. And I’ll continue to hunt big game.”

Rather and CBS announced in November that he would leave the “CBS Evening News” set on March 9.

Discussions about Rather’s role on the “CBS Evening News” began last summer, long before the controversial Sept. 8 “60 Minutes Wednesday” report about President Bush’s National Guard record that has since cast a short shadow over a long, illustrious career that any journalist would envy.

“I think he’s the last of a vanishing breed of bigger-than-life television journalists that began with Edward R. Murrow and continued with Walter Cronkite, (Chet) Huntley, (David) Brinkley, Tom Brokaw and Rather,” said Paul Levinson, chairman of the media and communications department at Fordham University. Levinson said Rather has, since the 1960s, “been at every major event that affected our lives. … He was and is a man of the people.”

“I’m either cursed or blessed,” Rather said, “but I never lost my thirst, my hunger for daily news. The one reason I like daily news is that right around the corner might be the next big story.”

He insisted that the fallout from the “60 Minutes Wednesday” report had been a “learning” experience for him.

One of the things he has learned is “who your real friends are … who stands up, who stands with you and who hits the sill.”

To that point, Rather won’t respond to criticisms from “60 Minutes” legends Mike Wallace and Don Hewitt leveled in a New Yorker magazine piece.

Instead, he wants to focus on the future, saying that what was overlooked in the investigation into the Bush story was that the panel said CBS should not diminish its efforts to do investigative reporting. And that’s what he said he plans to do.

He does admit to being curious about how he’ll react when the next big breaking news story comes along – and he’s not in the anchor chair. “I don’t underestimate that when the bell rings,” he said, “somebody might have to physically restrain me.”


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