I am an unabashed fan of Dan Rather. This year, he's won an award -- not just any award, but a lifetime achievement award.
Rather is this year's recipient of the Committee to Protect Journalists' Burton Benjamin Memorial Award for lifetime achievement in defending press freedom. At an event Thursday commemorating CPJ's three decades of battling for free expression, at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., Rather was interviewed by PBS's Gwen Ifill, where he discussed today's challenges to independent journalism as well as his own career.
The interview was preceded by the screening of a documentary chronicling CPJ's 30 years of advocacy. "Frankly, we would not exist if not for Dan Rather," said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon, adding that Rather sought out the organization and offered his involvement. He then recruited Walter Cronkite, another American television icon, who became CPJ's honorary chairman. "Their involvement gave the fledging organization the legitimacy it needed," Simon said.
What makes someone this good keep working this long? I don't know, but I like what Dan Rather said about reporting:
"My father described the newspaper as a poor man's college," he said, noting that quality journalism can change people's sense of what they deem to be important.
Good reporting has changed the world, and for much of the reporting that's changed the world in my lifetime, Dan Rather's voice has provided the soundtrack.
Now, this lifetime achievement award is not the first noteworthy event in that sixty-year career ... for highlights, come over the jump
and remember where it started: a hurricane along the Texas Gulf Coast.
Her name was Carla. She was as powerful a storm as could be imagined, but because she didn't come upon a coast unaware of her advance -- as a hurricane had done 60 years before, when Galveston was levelled and thousands of people died -- Carla killed fewer than 50 people in the US. Her radar image was the first broadcast on US TV -- and Dan Rather brought us the coverage.
Dan Rather was in Dallas in November, 1963. Tomorrow will be the 48th anniversary of that momentous event. John Connally and his wife in one car, with the President and First Lady, and LBJ and Lady Bird Johnson in the third-next car of that ill-fated motorcade that crossedDealey Plaza and slowed under the 6th floor windows of the Texas School Book Depository ... just long enough for a bad man, as John-John would describe Lee Harvey Oswald the next day, to get off three rounds from an Italian war surplus carbine. It was Dan Rather who first announced that President Kennedy had been slain.
Then he went to the Democratic Convention in 1968 to report on the Chicago doings for CBS News. Richard Daley's thugs assaulted him, right there on camera.
Then he went to Viet Nam. Rather's voice still haunts me, describing the condition of a young man being loaded aboard a dustoff from a Vietnamese landing zone; whether that soldier's life could be saved or not, I never knew. But it was Dan Rather standing in those paddies, walking through those jungles, among other reporters with live cameras and mikes in Southeast Asia, who brought us the horrors of war in living color. It was Dan Rather's coverage that helped persuade Walter Cronkite just how useless the war in Vietnam had grown ... and it was that op-ed piece Cronkite delivered that stopped LBJ from running for a second term.
Then he went to the White House as the CBS beat reporter Richard Nixon chose to try to pick on. Being a Texan, Rather refused to back down -- sideburns and all. He would confront another GOP President -- George HW Bush -- and reveal the strange absence of a third from duty posts with the Texas Air National Guard during an election year. That, finally, cost him the job of CBS' evening news anchor, because Dan Rather told a truth the rightwing corporatists didn't want the nation to hear.
He went back to work, on HDNet, to report the news. He's still there, still reporting, still bringing us coverage of important stories and events. Hats off, Daniel.
What's he doing now?
still standing up for the public's right to know. A few more of his own words:
News standards have been plummeting since the 1980s, he said, pointing to what he termed "politicization, corporatization, and trivialization."
"No more than six international conglomerates that own all kinds of businesses control 80 percent of the distribution of news in this country," Rather said, adding that those corporations "are in bed with big government."
"This is a short, medium and long-term threat to the kind of free and independent journalism that we have known," he said. Rather also decried "entertainment values that have overwhelmed information values" and led to "news programming that is in fact entertainment programming, with people shouting at each other."