Dan Rather: I'm defying terrorists by not being tested for anthrax

Wednesday, October 24th 2001, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ CBS anchor Dan Rather says he won't be tested for anthrax or take antibiotics even though the deadly germ was found in his office. It's his way of defying terrorists.

Rather's assistant, Claire Fletcher, is being treated for the skin form of anthrax. The anchorman and his staff continue to work in their Manhattan office, which was scheduled to get a thorough cleaning Wednesday night.

``We're not going to run scared and we're not going to work scared,'' he said Wednesday.

Rather said he's shown no symptoms of the disease and consults with experts daily.

A spokeswoman for the New York City Health Department, Sandra Mullin, said that in Rather's case, her department wouldn't necessarily recommend testing or antibiotics. She said that's based on the amount of anthrax found in his office and the period of time passed since Fletcher became sick.

The veteran CBS newsman said his decision was about more than his health.

``In wartime, I'm trying to respond to the situation with a mixture of good sense, defiance and, when I am called upon to deliver it, as much bravery as I can muster,'' he said.

He's not passing judgment on people who have made a different decision, he said.

Rather believes the anthrax scare has gotten too much attention from television news _ CBS included _ when compared to the U.S. military response to terrorism and other fallout from the Sept. 11 attacks.

``I think the story should be covered,'' he said. ``My own sense of it is that it's been overcovered, and I worry about that creating exactly what the people who spread this terrible stuff want, which is spreading fear that they hope will result in panic.''

Rather's competitor, NBC's Tom Brokaw, tested negative for anthrax but was prescribed Cipro as a precaution after his assistant came down with the skin form of the disease. Brokaw is on a two-week regimen that ends Friday because he touched the letter that contained anthrax.

ABC's Peter Jennings tested negative and did not take Cipro. The infant son of an ABC News employee who works near Jennings became sick with anthrax.

New York Gov. George Pataki began taking a five-day course of antibiotics when tests found anthrax in his Manhattan office. He was not tested himself. The governor stopped taking Cipro and his office reopened after subsequent environmental tests were negative.

The most common anthrax test, nasal swabs, indicate whether a person has been exposed to the germ spores, not whether they have the disease, Mullin said.

Rather said he's not even being yelled at by his wife for his stand.

``Not at all,'' he said. ``There's an old saying that you should marry a girl from Texas because no matter how tough things get, she's tougher.''

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