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April 25, 2007: Former CBS Anchor: ‘We Didn’t Do a Good Job’ Staying Objective after 9/11

In a PBS interview conducted by Bill Moyers, former CBS news anchor Dan Rather discusses how he and other journalists had difficulty separating their emotion and patriotism from their news coverage after the 9/11 attacks. Moyers plays some clips of Rather in the days after the attacks, including the now-famous declaration, “George Bush is the president, he makes the decisions and you know, as just one American wherever he wants me to line up, just tell me where” (see September 17-22, 2001 and April 14, 2003), and then says, “What I was wrestling with that night listening to you is: once we let our emotions out as journalists on the air, once we say, ‘We’ll line up with the president,’ can we ever really say to the country, ‘The president’s out of line’?” Rather replies: “Of course you can. No journalist should try to be a robot and say, ‘They’ve attacked my country, they’ve killed thousands of people but I don’t feel it.’ But what you can do and what should have been done in the wake of that is suck it up and say, okay, that’s the way I feel. That’s the way I feel as a citizen, and I can serve my country best by being the best journalist I can be. That’s the way I can be patriotic. By the way, Bill, this is not an excuse. I don’t think there is any excuse for, you know, my performance and the performance of the press in general in the roll up to the war. There were exceptions. There were some people, who, I think, did a better job than others. But overall and in the main, there’s no question that we didn’t do a good job.… We weren’t smart enough, we weren’t alert enough, we didn’t dig enough, and, we shouldn’t have been fooled in this way.”
'Lazy' Networks Relied on Analysts Rather than Investigations - Rather adds that his and every other network became lazy in just calling on so-called “experts” as pundits and commentators, without caring that their experts made up a cadre of pro-war, pro-administration shills. Moyers plays a quote from former CNN news chief Walter Isaacson, who said: “One of the great pressures we’re facing in journalism now is it’s a lot cheaper to hire thumb suckers and pundits and have talk shows on the air than actually have bureaus and reporters. And in the age of the Internet when everybody’s a pundit, we’re still gonna need somebody there to go talk to the colonels, to be on the ground in Baghdad and stuff and that’s very expensive.” Rather says: “Reporting is hard. The substitute for reporting far too often has become let’s just ring up an expert. Let’s see. These are experts on international armaments. And I’ll just go down the list here and check [neoconservative administration adviser] Richard Perle.… This is journalism on the cheap if it’s journalism at all. Just pick up the phone, call an expert, bring an expert into the studio. Easy. Not time consuming. Doesn’t take resources. And if you’re lucky and good with your list of people, you get an articulate person who will kind of spark up the broadcast.”
Rather, Others 'Just Blew with the Wind,' Says Author - Author and media commentator Norman Solomon says: “I think these [network] executives were terrified of being called soft on terrorism. They absolutely knew that the winds were blowing at hurricane force politically and socially in the United States. And rather than stand up for journalism, they just blew with the wind. And Dan Rather and others who say, yeah, you know. I was carried away back then. Well, sure. That’s when it matters. When it matters most is when you can make a difference as a journalist.” Rather seems to agree. “Fear is in every newsroom in the country,” he says. “And fear of what? Well, it’s the fear it’s a combination of: if you don’t go along to get along, you’re going to get the reputation of being a troublemaker. There’s also the fear that, you know, particularly in networks, they’ve become huge, international conglomerates. They have big needs, legislative needs, repertory needs in Washington. Nobody has to send you a memo to tell you that that’s the case. You know. And that puts a seed in your mind; of well, if you stick your neck out, if you take the risk of going against the grain with your reporting, is anybody going to back you up?” [PBS, 4/25/2007]

Entity Tags: Dan Rather, Norman Solomon, George W. Bush, Bill Moyers

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

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