As a guest on the January 11 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, National Review White House correspondent Byron York repeated unwarranted attacks on CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather. York stated that "conservative watchdog groups" have targeted Rather because "he's had some very weird episodes that have been real chinks in his armor, like 'Kenneth, what's the frequency?' and ... a weird episode in Chicago with a cab." But neither of the two episodes mentioned by York involved anything Rather did, but instead, actions taken against him.
The right-wing website NewsMax.com referenced the two incidents -- which occurred in the 1980s -- in a September 2004 article, reporting that Rather "seemed to invite odd occurrences that seemed to be all the odder just for having happened to him." RatherBiased.com, a conservative website devoted to "document[ing] the partisan beliefs of one of the most politicized journalists of our time," as well as readers of the right-wing online forum Free Republic, have also cited the incidents in attempts to discredit Rather. The Associated Press even asserted in a September 20, 2004, article that Rather "seemed to invite" unusual occurrences.
But the "weird episodes" York referenced both involved other individuals acting bizarrely, not Rather. On January 29, 1997, the Associated Press gave the following account of the "Kenneth, what is the frequency?" incident:
The mystery may be solved: Dan Rather has identified the man he says beat him up on the street in 1986 while demanding to know "Kenneth, what is the frequency?" The CBS anchorman said his assailant was William Tager, now in prison for killing an NBC stagehand outside the Today show in 1994. Tager was convinced the media had him under surveillance and were beaming hostile messages to him, and he demanded that Rather tell him the frequency being used, according to a forensic psychiatrist who examined Tager after the NBC shooting.
As for the "weird episode in Chicago with a cab," a November 11, 1980, New York Times article noted:
A cabby picked up Dan Rather, the CBS correspondent, at Chicago's O'Hare Airport yesterday, and things began to happen. According to a spokesman for the Chicago police, the cab driver refused to go where he was told and instead ''drove wildly through city streets'' with Mr. Rather shouting and gesturing for help. When the cab finally stopped, Mr. Rather filed a complaint, and the driver, 38-year-old Eugene Phillips, was charged with disorderly conduct.
The police said Mr. Phillips had indicated to them that there had been a dispute over the fare, an assertion they dismissed as unfounded. Mr. Rather himself, in an interview broadcast on the local CBS affiliate, called the incident ''a very minor thing.''
York's Hardball discussion of Rather included the following exchange with host Chris Matthews:
YORK: There are conservative watchdog groups that have virtually made careers out of watching Rather's career for more than 30 years.
MATTHEWS: Why is he the main happy target of the right? Why do they most dislike him?
YORK: Well, for two reasons: One, he's been -- at the time it started, CBS was the dominant news organization. Two, he's had a very high profile from the time he stood up and challenged [former President] Nixon with the, "No, sir. Are you running for something?"
And three, he's had some very weird episodes that have been real chinks in his armor, like, "Kenneth, what's the frequency?" And there was a weird episode in Chicago with a cab.