Dan Rather [was] the anchor and managing editor of CBS Evening News and correspondent for 60 Minutes. In an interview on BBC Newsnight in the UK, he said, “What’s going on is a belief that you can manipulate communicable trust between the leadership and the led. The way you do that is you don’t let the press in anywhere… Anybody in American journalism who tells you that he or she has not felt this pressure [not to ask tough questions] is either kidding themselves or trying to deceive you. What we’re talking about here is a form of self-censorship. Self-censorship is a real and present danger to journalists at every level and on a lot of different kinds of stories. Before the war, before September 11th, fear ruled every newsroom in the country in some important ways – fear if we don’t dumb it down, if we don’t tart it up, if we don’t go to the trivial at the expense of the important, we’re not going to be publishing a newspaper or magazine. We’re not going to be on the air. The ratings will eat us up. (p. 41-42). There was a time in South Africa when people would put flaming tires around people’s necks if they dissented. In some ways the fear [now in the U.S.] is that you’ll have a flaming tire of lack of patriotism put around your neck. It’s that fear that keeps journalists from asking the tough questions. And I am humbled to say, I do not except myself from this criticism.”
In his more than 30 years at CBS, he received almost every honor in broadcast journalism, including several Emmy Awards, a Peabody Award, and citations from scholarly, professional, and charitable organizations. This is an excerpt from an interview originally aired on BBC Newsnight on May 16, 2002.
Access was extremely limited to the press during the time of September 11th, and ever since then [has been] limited in a way that is unprecedented in American journalism. There was a full understanding of why access was so limited during that time. [However] in the weeks and months that followed September 11th, the federal government began to take an unprecedented attitude about the access of American journalists to the war. What’s particularly troubling is that what’s being done is in direct variance with the Pentagon’s stated policy [of] maximum access and maximum information consistent with national security. What’s going on is a belief that you can manipulate communicable trust between the leadership and the led. The way you do that is you don’t let the press in anywhere (p. 36-38).
Access to the [Iraq] war is extremely limited. The fiercer the combat, the more the access is limited, [including] access to information. I would say that overwhelmingly the limiting of access to information has much more to do with the determination to be seen as conducting the war errorlessly than it does with any sense of national security (p. 40).
None of us in journalism have asked questions strongly enough about limiting access and information for reasons other than national security. It’s unpatriotic not to ask questions. Anybody in American journalism who tells you that he or she has not felt this pressure [not to ask tough questions] is either kidding themselves or trying to deceive you (p. 39-40)
What we’re talking about here is a form of self-censorship. Self-censorship is a real and present danger to journalists at every level and on a lot of different kinds of stories. Before the war, before September 11th, fear ruled every newsroom in the country in some important ways – fear if we don’t dumb it down, if we don’t tart it up, if we don’t go to the trivial at the expense of the important, we’re not going to be publishing a newspaper or magazine. We’re not going to be on the air. The ratings will eat us up. (p. 41-42).
There was a time in South Africa when people would put flaming tires around people’s necks if they dissented. In some ways the fear [now in the U.S.] is that you’ll have a flaming tire of lack of patriotism put around your neck. It’s that fear that keeps journalists from asking the tough questions. And I am humbled to say, I do not except myself from this criticism (p. 42).
Dan Rather, the former CBS News anchor who resigned in disgrace following a retracted hit piece on George W. Bush, has resurrected his career in the Trump era as a consistently harsh critic of the president.
Rather, once again a recurring figure on television, is often found making grave statements about Trump’s Russia ties and battles with the media. Much like the president, Rather has had success at grabbing headlines with emotional and often alarmist social media posts. Rather regularly (sometimes multiple times a day) crafts emotional, anti-Trump Facebook posts that go viral thanks in part to a tense media environment centered around the president.
In August 2016, roughly four months before the election, Rather went on what USA Today described as an “epic Facebook rant” after Trump said the “Second Amendment people” would keep Hillary Clinton from abolishing the Second Amendment. Many in the media portrayed that comment as a threat. Rather’s Facebook post — in which he urged journalists to abandon objectivity in covering Trump — received approving coverage in the media.
“Former anchorman Dan Rather has issued a challenge to his colleagues,” is how CNN’s Brian Stelter described Rather’s screed against objectivity. Stelter added that Rather seemed to be “agreeing with what a number of media critics have argued recently: That Trump cannot be covered and treated like a ‘normal’ Republican or Democratic candidate for president.”
Stelter has periodically invited Rather onto his Sunday show, “Reliable Sources.” In a post-election appearance on the show, Rather said that Trump’s victory proved that journalists “didn’t do our job as well as we could have and should have,” calling Trump’s election “gut check time for the press.”
In another “Reliable Sources” hit in April after Trump ordered a missile strike in Syria following the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons against civilians, Rather lectured other journalists against describing Trump as “presidential.”
“Dropping bombs, having missile strikes doesn’t make one presidential,” Rather said. “It’s easy to drop bombs, it’s easy to put missiles off. What comes after that, dealing with what comes in the wake of that is much more difficult.”
Stelter declined to comment on the record for this story.
“On paper, as a package, he looks like presidential material,” Rather said of Obama in his 2012 book, “Rather Outspoken: My Life in the News.” Rather’s critiques of Obama focused on the Democratic president not doing enough to push back against Republicans in Congress, which he chalked up to Obama “underestimating the adversarial determination and solidarity of the Republicans.”
Stelter, Don Lemon and other CNN hosts have consistently given Rather a platform from which to lob criticisms of President Trump, as have the liberal hosts on MSNBC.
In an appearance on MSNBC’s “The Last Word” with Lawrence O’Donnell last month, Rather made headlines for claiming Trump fulfilled his campaign promise to withdraw from the Paris Accords because he was “lashing out in anger” and “psychologically troubled.” Rather added: “History will punish Donald Trump for this decision.”
Rather has consistently provided alarmist commentary on the ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Last month Rather called Russia’s hacking of the DNC and John Podesta a “cyber Pearl Harbor,” which conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer described as a “deranged analogy.”
Rather’s re-emergence as an ostensibly credible political figure is a clear example of liberal media bias in the age of Trump, said Tim Graham, director of media analysis at the conservative Media Research Center, a media watch dog.
“The first word that comes to mind is mind-boggling,” Graham said of Rather’s return to the spotlight. “It’s like, ‘let’s go for diet tips to a 900 pound man.’”
“Brian Stelter and [MSNBC hosts] Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes all match this notion of Rather that it’s the media’s job is to crusade,” Graham added, saying that “Dan Rather the watchdog goes away” during Democratic presidencies.
“The emergence of Rather represents the liberal media arrogance that it is the media’s job to crusade. They are all so exercised over Donald Trump. They believe, they see the Trump’s election, the Trump administration as an ongoing national emergency and a moral 9/11,” Graham said. “Rather fits that. Rather is an overly emotional doofus. He is not a smart person.”
Smart or not, Rather doesn’t appear to be going anywhere.
“The questions are obvious. The answers are wanting. We the American people deserve to know what in God’s name is happening. Our legal system demands a presumption of innocence until the evidence proves otherwise. But the evidence is piling up,” Rather wrote on Facebook following the news that Donald Trump Jr. met with a Russian lawyer to try and obtain dirt on Hillary Clinton from the Russian government.
“I have been around a long time. I like to think I have seen a lot. But the revelations of the emails that set up the meeting between Donald Trump. Jr. – and let us not forget both Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner — with an agent of the Russian government is unlike anything I could even have imagined,” Rather declared. “There is still a lot that we do not know. But only a hypocrite, a cynic or a fool could argue that this development can be innocuously explained.”
Rather appeared on MSNBC’s “All In With Chris Hayes” that same day to talk about his Facebook post, which was shared almost 30,000 times.
“There’s a question of patriotism involved here. And it is an immense political question for Donald Trump’s presidency right now because the hot breath of truth is coming down heavy on their necks just now,” Rather said.
Ultimately, Graham said, the fact that the journalists continue to portray Rather as a reliable source of information reflects negatively on the state of media today.
Dan Rather, Graham said, “is not a legend. He is an embarrassment.”
This memoir by Dan Rather is told in a straightforward and conversational voice, and covers all the important moments of his journalistic career, including a frank accounting of his dismissal from CBS, the Abu Ghraib story, the George W. Bush Air National Guard controversy, new insights on the JFK assassination, the origin of “Hurricane Dan” as well as inside stories about all the U.S. Presidents he covered and all the top personalities Dan has either interviewed or worked with over his distinguished career.
The book will also include Dan’s thoughts on the state of journalism today and what he sees for its future, as well as never-before-revealed personal observations and commentary.
A riveting play-by-play of a reporter getting and defending a story that recalls All the President’s Men, Truth puts readers in the center of the “60 Minutes II” story on George W. Bush’s shirking of his National Guard duty. The firestorm that followed that broadcast–a conflagration that was carefully sparked by the right and fanned by bloggers–trashed Mapes’ well-respected twenty-five year producing career, caused newsman Dan Rather to resign from his anchor chair early and led to an unprecedented “internal inquiry” into the story…chaired by former Reagan attorney general Richard Thornburgh.
Truth examines Bush’s political roots as governor of Texas, delves into what is known about his National Guard duty-or lack of service-and sheds light on the solidity of the documents that backed up the National Guard story, even including images of the actual documents in an appendix to the book. It is peopled with a colorful cast of characters-from Karl Rove to Sumner Redstone-and moves from small-town Texas to Black Rock-CBS corporate headquarters-in New York City.
Truth connects the dots between a corporation under fire from the federal government and the decision about what kinds of stories a news network may cover. It draws a line from reporting in the trenches to the gutting of the great American tradition of a independent media and asks whether it’s possible to break important stories on a powerful sitting president.
Truth (previously published as Truth & Duty was made into the 2015 film Truth, starring Cate Blanchett, Robert Redford, Topher Grace and Elizabeth Moss.