Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Poor, poor pitiful Dan

He "retired" not a moment too soon. Former CBS News anchor Dan Rather, once King of the World, still hasn't quite figured out why he's on the outside looking in these days if his address at the Fordham University School of Law is any indication. According to the Hollywood Reporter:
"... there is a climate of fear running through newsrooms stronger than he has ever seen in his more than four-decade career.

Rather famously tangled with President Nixon and his aides during the Watergate years while Rather was a hard-charging White House correspondent.

Addressing the Fordham University School of Law in Manhattan, occasionally forcing back tears, he said that in the intervening years, politicians "of every persuasion" had gotten better at applying pressure on the conglomerates that own the broadcast networks. He called it a "new journalism order."

He said this pressure -- along with the "dumbed-down, tarted-up" coverage, the advent of 24-hour cable competition and the chase for ratings and demographics -- has taken its toll on the news business. "All of this creates a bigger atmosphere of fear in newsrooms," Rather said.

Was it this pressure that caused Dan and his team to fake a document to try to influence the 2004 presidential elections? It was the outrage over the obvious fakes that caused "RatherGate" and led to a general acknowledgement that the Pajamahadeen of the Blogosphere had come of age as news analysts.

Appearing with the tearful Rather and reaching out to aid and comfort him was Sheila Nevins, HBO Documentary and Family president. She (predictably) complained about the influence of the religious right.

Nevin asked Rather if he felt the same type of repressive forces in the Nixon administration as in the current Bush administration.

"No, I do not," Rather said. That's not to say there weren't forces trying to remove him from the White House beat while reporting on Watergate; but Rather said he felt supported by everyone above him, from Washington bureau chief Bill Small to then-news president Dick Salant and CBS chief William S. Paley.

"There was a connection between the leadership and the led . . . a sense of, 'we're in this together,"' Rather said. It's not that the then-leadership of CBS wasn't interested in shareholder value and profits, Rather said, but they also saw news as a public service. Rather said he knew very little of the intense pressure to remove him in the early 1970s because of his bosses' support.

Nevins took up the cause for Rather, who was emotional several times during the event.

"When a man is close to tears discussing his work and his lip quivers, he deserves bosses who punch back. I feel I would punch back for Dan," Nevins said.

Isn't that sweet?

Rather was not ditched by a leadership of corporatists but by a hestitant and uncertain group of network officials who finally realized that either Rather should be allowed to gracefully get the hell out of the kitchen that is CBS News or the network might have no credibility left, once the wheels began falling off the Air National Guard story.

This was after he delivered a "Non-apology" apology and refused to even consider the possibility that the truth of a matter might be more important than whether it substantially advanced a "desirable" political goal, in this case helping John Kerry win the presidency.

The fundamentals of news gathering and news commentary is no different than it has ever been, but the monopoly of the Big Three networks is over. There is a new world order of journalism and, for the time being, it remains one of the freer, more responsible versions this country has yet seen. It isn't perfect and it will have its problems, moments of vainglory, treachery and incompetence. At least no one individual will anytime soon wield the kind of unchecked power of a Conkrite or Rather.

Monopolies on news, as with monopolies of anything, cannot long serve the greater good. The body politic is best served when many competing voices strive to identify, defend and/or attack Truth.

Where ever Truth may be found.


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