Dan Rather and Donald Trump locked horns long before the legendary newsman found an unexpected resurgence as a social media star thanks to his hard-hitting daily Facebook dispatches on the President’s divisive administration — but many might be surprised that the men were once on friendly terms.
As Trump gained notoriety and grew his career as a New York City real estate developer in the late 1970s, Rather was on the cusp of replacing Walter Cronkite as anchor of the CBS Evening News (a post he took in 1981 and held for 24 years).
Now the iconic newsman 85, tells PEOPLE exclusively in this week’s issue that he and Trump first came to know each other around that time as members of the New York Police Athletic League board.
“I was rather impressed with him,” says Rather. “I always got along with him well.”
He adds, “He worked. He did use his celebrity for the charity — not to get his name on the board and forget it.”
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Two decades later, however, the men’s relationship took a turn.
In light of Trump’s decision to explore a bid for the presidency in 2000, Rather secured his cooperation for a 60 Minutes II profile. The report concluded that the mogul’s campaign would be “basically about selling condominiums and golf course memberships and trying to elevate his brand.”
Trump saw the unflattering piece when it aired and, according to Rather, “hated everything about it, and he let me know in one of those phone-pulled-away-from-your-ear type of situations.”
Though Rather says he personally “didn’t make too much of it at the time because if you do the type of journalism that I’ve tried to do over the years, such telephone calls are not new,” Trump wasn’t as quick to let bygones be bygones.
“He has said not a word to me since then.”
- For more from Dan Rather, including the story behind his rise to social-media stardom, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday
in the last 18 months, Rather’s unflinching criticism of Trump, now 70, has been reinvigorated. He began to post essays on Facebook calling out the candidate–turned–President on his immigration policies, his controversial remarks on the campaign trail and his attitude toward the press.
“People were getting caught up in the day-to-day headlines — the President sends a tweet, and everyone picks it up,” says the News and Guts founder, who will release a book of essays on patriotism, What Unites Us, on Nov. 7 — nearly one year to the day after Trump’s election. “But there’s a larger picture — that is where historical perspective comes into it. I became convinced that maybe, in some small way, I’d have something to contribute. I was aching to do something of quality.”
And though he finds it unlikely, one thing of quality Rather would happily agree to is a long-time-coming conversation with Trump 17 years after the businessman iced him out.
He quips, though, of that interview offer: “It may be more likely that I would become the Archbishop of Canterbury than that Donald Trump would call me.”