Those voices - they're whispering again that Rather is too weird or folksy.

He looks exhausted and uncomfortable.Precisely. But those are Dan Rather's good qualities.

As he wraps up his first decade as network anchor Rather's ratings are down and everyone is questioning his abilities.

Rumor has it that he will soon be replaced, or even worse, paired with someone who has publicly admitted she would rather be home conceiving tabloid anchor Maury Povitch's child.

But before anyone does anything rash, let's take a deep breath and consider what life would be like without Rather.

Sure, we could always get our news from CNN's Bernard Shaw, who has been basking in the heady afterglow of anti-aircraft fire since he returned from Baghdad.

But Shaw is hampered by the Povitchidal tendencies he displayed in 1988 when he opened the presidential debates by asking Michael Dukakis how he would feel if his wife Kitty were (hypothetically) raped.

Would Rather have asked such a question? As a White House reporter, he reserved his considerable fire for Richard Nixon himself and left the family - Pat, Tricia and Julie - out of it.

Then there's Peter Jennings, ABC's anchor, the recent ratings winner. He is professional. The real question is, why would someone as dashing as Jennings want to be an anchorman?

Jennings could be the next James Bond - with that style, charm, wit, grace under pressure and sex appeal.

All he lacks is humanity. His entire demeanor is that of a man who knows he's having cocktails with Ursula Andress immediately after the broadcast, apocalypse or no apocalypse.

Rather's sleep-starved eyes, on the other hand, glisten with barely controlled tears at moments only he can understand.

Tom Brokaw, well, he's OK.

For some people he's the perfect middle ground between Rather and Jennings because he's not as volatile as Rather and not as remote as Jennings.

But he's the chain restaurant of anchors.

Neither offensive nor interesting, Bro-kaw looks like a midlevel manager in a mid-size insurance company somewhere in the Midwest.

On the other hand, Rather has already become a metaphor for our time.

Just as Walter Cronkite's soothing, avuncular presence reassured a nation, so Rather embodies the cynical restlessness of the age of the shortened attention span.

Rather is the perfect postmodern anchorman, recombining styles that range from good ole boy to bleeding heart liberal.

Yes, he's had a few lapses.

The "get Dan" forces thought they had him on the ropes in 1987 when he left the screen blank for six excruciating minutes.

Other pundits, shocked by the spectacle of an anchorman pressing a subject for an answer, called for Rather's head after his controversial exchange with candidate George Bush.

But such incidents also point to Rather's appeal.

Those with a taste for life on the edge find watching Rather a singularly exhilarating experience.

Of course, the irony is that freeing Rather from the shackles of anchordom would be the nicest thing anyone could do for him.

Perched high atop the prized anchor desk, Rather has appeared about as contented as a bird of prey in a canary cage.

But on his rare forays out into the field, into savage, uncomfortable places, he is merrily, perversely, at ease.

Think of him in those Banana Republic khaki shirts that allow him to expose a few virile chest hairs.

At these moments Rather is himself.

We prisoners of the evening news, however, would sorely miss the hottest guy this too-cool medium has ever seen.