Dan Rather Warns of Media Control
Dan Rather at the 2012 ALA Annual Conference in Anaheim.
Veteran journalist and newscaster Dan Rather provided a little taste of the stories in his new book Rather Outspoken: My Life in the News at the Monday Association of Library Trustees, Advocates, Friends, and Foundations’ President’s Program, and warned of the increasing “dumbing down and trivialization” of the news.
Rather began by saying, “I think I am a pretty good storyteller. I should be, after more than 60 years as a reporter.”
“What I attempt to do in this book is tell the kind of stories that I tell when I’m at ease with friends, family—maybe around the fireplace or around the campfire—and someone would say, ‘Dan what was it really like to cover Dr. Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement?’ or ‘What was Vietnam really like?’ or ‘Tell me about interviewing Saddam Hussein.’ These are stories that I tell at ease, and I wanted to put them between hard covers.”
Rather went on to address what he called the “elephant in the room”—that he had not left CBS “under the best of good circumstances.”
“We had reported a true story, which did not sit well with the powers that be in Washington and corporate leadership decided to fold.” He described the dilemma of whether to write about his experience of reporting on George W. Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard, and said it ultimately was something he just had to include.
“One of the threads woven through the book is my concern about the state of American journalism,” he said. “I have been very lucky here. What you’re looking at is a reporter who got lucky. That’s basically who I am and what I am.”
“But the craft of journalism has changed over the years, not for the better,” he continued. “There has been a dumbing down, a trivialization of the news, and one of the reasons for that is the corporatization and the politicization of the news.”
Rather noted that not just journalists, but “every American citizen should care about it and here’s why. You know this, and you have since your 7th grade civics class—that a free and independent, truly independent (fiercely independent when necessary) press is the red, beating heart of democracy and freedom.”
Rather went on to describe how “a few, a very few, very large international corporations … control more than 80% of the true national distribution of news in the country. These big corporations, for whom news is only a small part of their business—they manufacture defense products and weapons, they run theme parks, they have all kinds of interests—this makes them dependent in large measure on whoever is in power in Washington.”
Putting it frankly, Rather said that these corporations “are in bed with big power in Washington … and they want the news reported in a certain way.”
No matter what one’s political orientation, Rather said, “I think we can all agree that we don’t want to have a few very large corporations, working in concert with a powerful political apparatus in Washington, deciding what we see, read, and hear—and they do, to a very large degree.”
Rather went on to say that this state of American journalism runs through the George W. Bush Texas Air National Guard story, and he emphasized that what he reported was a true story. One important fact, he added, was that Bush did benefit from his father’s influence to gain acceptance into what Rather called a “champagne unit” of the Texas National Guard—one way that those of privilege avoided being sent to Vietnam at the time—and noted that nobody has denied this fact. “The attack was on the process by which we got to the story.”
As he continued, Rather made it clear that “There is nobody who has more respect for the Office of the President than your speaker here,” and credited this value to his parents and his upbringing in a small Texas town.