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Rather Will Give Up the Chair

Dan Rather said he will step down from the CBS Evening News March 9.

Rather, who took over the chair from Walter Cronkite 24 years ago, says he will continue to be a correspondent on both installments of 60 Minutes. That role could be something of a show of support for the anchor, who has been under the gun over his participation in a 60 Minutes story.

"I have always said that I'd know when the time was right to step away from the anchor chair," Rather said in a statement.

The timing amidst calls from some conservative quarter for him to step down over the 60 Minutes snafu suggest a connection between the two, but Rather says in the statement that he and CBS had began discussions in the summer, which would predate the election-season controversy about the badly-sourced 60 Minutes National Guard story that had industry watchers speculating about Rather's future.

Rather reported -- and initially defended -- the story, which explored questions about President George W. Bush's National Guard service. The story was partly based on documents whose credibility CBS later conceded it did not sufficiently vet. CBS was criticized by some Republicans, who saw a pro-John Kerry motive in CBS and Rather's running with the story.

Just yesterday, Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone said that there was no such motive, and that if he thought differently, no one would survive at CBS News, but he also said that blaming Rather was jumping to conclusions. The report of an independent panel commissioned by Viacom to look into the story is expected to be released soon.

"I have always been and remain a 'hard news' investigative reporter at heart," said Rather.  "I now look forward to pouring my heart into that kind of reporting full-time."

Rather's announcement marks another changing of the guard for evening network news programs. NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw is stepping down Dec. 1.