Missing from Election Night coverage: Dan Rather and his search for the truth
Originally published on BuzzFlash.com on Fri, 11/07/2008 – 11:03am
For those of us who follow the world of politics, there are certain rituals on Election Day.
I leave the house at 6:30 a.m. to vote. I don’t shower before I go — hey, it’s part of the ritual. And once I do shower and go to work, I always bring my proof of voting to work with me.
And I would traditionally watch Dan Rather for my news coverage. I couldn’t find Dan Rather on my TV screen Tuesday night, and it made me feel really sad.
I felt it a little bit in 2006, trying to sit through Bob Schieffer in between Katie Couric’s attempts at political knowledge. But I really felt it on Tuesday night, since this was the first presidential election I can remember without Dan Rather in some form.
Now if Dan Rather was deceased, like Peter Jennings, I would be the kind of nostalgic sad on Tuesday. Or if Rather’s integrity was deceased, like Tom Brokaw, I would also be glum and nostalgic.
But Rather is alive and still has his integrity. Yet I couldn’t find him on Tuesday night. Yes, he does work for HD Net, and boy, I would have watched that, but I don’t think I have that on my cable.
Rather did provide some analysis, though more comedy-oriented in 2006 on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” But it wasn’t the same. The Ratherisms are entertaining, but not as much by themselves but within the context of delivering news and perspective.
For someone who has been in the journalism business for a long time, I honestly had few heroes and role models in the MSM. Yes, Keith Olbermann is one of them now, but he makes the list in a different context. Rather worked his way as a reporter, getting attacked at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, his work on CBS Reports and 60 Minutes as a correspondent, and of course, the Richard Nixon moment in 1974.
Rather attracted notice in 1974 for an exchange with Richard Nixon. At a National Association of Broadcasters convention in Houston, Rather was applauded when he stood to ask a question, drawing Nixon’s query, “Are you running for something?” Many saw Rather’s quick retort, “No, sir, Mr. President. Are you?” as an affront to Presidential dignity.
And then there was the live interview with George H.W. Bush in 1988.
This moment was recalled in an explosive live interview Rather conducted with then Vice-President George Bush in January 1988. When Rather pressed Bush about his contradictory claims regarding his involvement in the Iran Contra Scandal, the vice president responded by asking Rather if he would like to be judged by those minutes resulting from his decision to walk off the air.
Perhaps Rather wasn’t the best suited anchor, but in the world of television, the anchor chair is the ideal spot. And anchoring election coverage was where Rather shined, well beyond his other network anchor counterparts. In the world of pre-cable news and even since then, no network could beat Rather and Schieffer on Election Night.
But Rather pissed off a lot of conservatives over the years, the Nixon and Bush incidents among others. The allegations of “liberal” didn’t seem to reflect on Rather. Contrary to the perception, Rather was just after the truth, a reason why he belongs in my Hall of Fame. And like Olbermann (who is also after the truth), sometimes he was clumsy in doing so. That was part of what made Rather charming, but conservatives didn’t think so.
Conservatives got their revenge in 2004 in the whole “Memogate” scandal. Les Moonves was promoted to Chairman and CEO of CBS in 2003, and under his management, wanted to shift the perception of CBS News away from being “liberal.”
Even though the Memogate scandal proved that Rather didn’t lie about any of the facts in the case, Moonves saw this as a way to get Rather out of CBS.
As proof, on September 22, CBS announced an “independent panel.” The panel would consist of two different people, one seemingly objective (Louis Boccardi, former head of The Associated Press) and one biased against Rather, former U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh under George H.W. Bush.
At the time, many objected to the insincere form the panel took. Apparently, it could have been far worse. The New York Observer reported this week that the CBS list included a few conservative media players:
William Buckley, Robert Novak, Kate O’Beirne, Nicholas Von Hoffman, Tucker Carlson, Pat Buchanan, George Will, Lou Dobbs, Matt Drudge, Robert Barkley, Robert Kagan, Fred Barnes, William Kristol, John Podhoretz, David Brooks, William Safire, Bernard Goldberg, Ann Coulter, Andrew Sullivan, Christopher Hitchens, PJ O’Rourke, Christopher Caldwell, Elliot Abrams, Charles Krauthammer, William Bennett, Rush Limbaugh.
Moonves got what he wanted: a CBS News department that appeared to be free of conservative bias. Were his motives ideological or financial? Perhaps both, but definitely financial. Yet, his pet project of Katie Couric as the CBS Evening News anchor hasn’t worked out well financially either.
But journalism, at CBS and elsewhere, suffered mightily as a result. Journalism is at its most brave when it stands up to power. No one showed as much bravery in the MSM during his time than Dan Rather. No matter what CBS and others do to his legacy, I know Dan Rather is one of the good ones. I just wish we could have seen more of that on Election Night.