Alleged Rather attacker paroled but, Kenneth, the frequency remains unclear


For years, I have been watching closely the progress through the New York State penal system of William Tager, a North Carolina man who shot an NBC technician outside of the broadcaster’s studios at Rockerfeller Plaza in 1994.  Tager plead guilty to 1st degree manslaughter in 1996 and until last fall, had resided at Sing Sing Correctional Facility on a 12 1/2 to 25 year sentence.

(The Tager case was unusually similar to the 1995 homicide in my home town, Ottawa, of CJOH TV sportscaster Brian Smith, who was shot by a paranoid schizophrenic man he never knew. To this day, the security booth at my employer, the Ottawa Citizen, has a photo of Jeffrey Arenburg, since paroled, posted in case he decides to pay a visit.)

What makes the Tager case fascinating, however, is its link to one of the strangest events in modern media history  –the apparently random and unprovoked attack on CBS anchorman Dan Rather, in the foyer of a Manhattan apartment building in 1986.

During the attack, one of the assailants — Rather claimed two men beat him — repeated a question that Rather said was, “Kenneth, what is the frequency?”  No one was ever arrested or charged in the peculiar incident and Rather was unable to offer an explanation of why he was attacked or the cryptic question.

The Rather incident was the subject of an R.E.M. song of a similar title.  R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe described the attack as “the premier surrealist act of the 20th century.”

But after Tager was convicted of killing the NBC technician, a court-appointed psychiatrist who had examined him told New York newspapers that he believed Tager was responsible for the Rather attack.  Dr. Park Dietz told the New York Daily News there is “no question that it was William Tager who  assaulted Dan Rather”

Rather was shown a photo and positively identified Tager. “There’s no doubt in my mind that this is the person,” he said.

The other man allegedly involved was conveniently discarded as the New York tabloids decided that Tager was responsible.  Some theorized that because Tager was Jewish, the bizarre phrase uttered during the assault might have in fact been, “Goniff, what is the frequency?” — goniff being a Yiddish word for thief.  That Tager had committed the attack was never again questioned, except in a brilliant, satirical piece in Harper’s that fingered novelist Donald Barthleme.

Tager never got a chance to respond. He wasn’t charged or tried for the attack and never commented on it publicly. To this day, his role in the Rather attack is merely an allegation.

Rather sings "What's the Frequency, Kenneth" with R.E.M.

A few years ago, I personally wrote to Tager at Sing Sing and asked  him about the Rather allegation. No response.

In October, the New York States Department of Correctional Services website showed that Tager, now 63, had been paroled. I filed a request under the New York State Freedom of Information law for transcripts of his parole hearing. Was it possible, I wondered, that he was asked about the Rather allegation by the parole board? Maybe he copped to it, I thought.

Unfortunately, as you can see in the response posted below, Tager never went before a parole board hearing. He was granted a “limited  time credit allowance,” which is a sort of good-behaviour clause that allows early release, given conditions for release, and left prison on Oct. 27, 2010.

From the Parole Board documents below, we know that Tager is again living in New York City and probably in Manhattan. He is not allowed to drive a car. He cannot drink and can’t set foot in a bar. He must undergo substance abuse testing and counselling. He has a curfew set by his parole officer, and gets mental health counselling.

But what we still don’t know is whether William Tager was author of the strangest incident in the strange career of Dan Rather.

6 thoughts on “Alleged Rather attacker paroled but, Kenneth, the frequency remains unclear

  1. Just a little correction. Dan Rather worked for CBS, not CBC.

    ” –the apparently random and unprovoked attack on CBC anchorman Dan Rather,”

  2. Pingback: “What’s the frequency, kiddies?”: Alleged Rather attacker wants to work with children | a few tasteful snaps

  3. Thanks for this closure. It has been a running joke (like a secret code phrase)between a friend and I since the incident.

  4. Pingback: "What's the frequency, kiddies?": Alleged Rather attacker wants to work with children | Ottawa Citizen

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