Right Wing Nut House



Filed under: Media — Rick Moran @ 12:03 pm

I have to confess that I don’t remember much about the day that John Kennedy was assassinated. I was all of 8 years old and, as I recall, Sister Mary Athanasius came on the intercom and told us to pray for the repose of the soul of the first Catholic President the country had ever had. We weren’t let out of school early nor did our teacher Sister Mary Carol talk about what had just happened.

But when I got home, I realized something was terribly wrong. First, my mother was watching television during the day. In our house TV wasn’t turned on until 4:30 pm when “Garfield Goose” came on.

We were watching very serious looking men, tough looking guys smoking cigarettes talking in hushed, grave tones. And people were crying; men and women. I knew that the President had been killed but I didn’t understand what was going on with all these people on TV saying pretty much the same things over and over.

I got bored after a couple of hours and went up to my room.

I came down about an hour later to watch Garfield Goose only to find the same men talking about the same things. The same movie clips (this is in the days before video tape) were playing showing a smiling, handsome Kennedy with his kids, with his wife, in a sailboat, at a press conference. They kept showing these images over and over again.

In those days, we watched CBS, the network of the newsgod Edward R. Murrow whose reports from London during the war (less than 20 years before this horrible day) and post-war tackling of liberal causes endeared him to my parents. Murrow had only recently been supplanted by Walter Cronkite, another war reporter whose brusque, no-nonsense style was somehow comforting to watch.

Only when CBS went to Dallas for live updates did you get the feeling that things were a little out of control.

I remember Dan Rather pretty well. CBS would occasionally cut to this youngish looking reporter who was breathlessly talking about something important. Unlike Cronkite, Rather was a “hot” personality on television, a barely controlled volcano of energy that you felt was just waiting to erupt.

Rather made his bones that day with CBS news on a national basis. Within months, he was the CBS “goto” guy on a variety of stories including civil rights, Viet Nam, and eventually, making it all the way to the pinnacle of his profession as White House correspondent for CBS news.

My purpose of this retrospective is not to bury Dan but to praise him. Because despite his obvious bias Dan Rather was a good reporter. Can you be both? Of course! The best reporters of the 20th century including Scotty Reston, Murrow, Merriman Smith, Hugh Sidey, and Theodore H. White to name a few were all horribly biased, liberal to a fault. But hey all had one thing in common; World War II.

The Second World War shaped and molded these men as both Americans and journalists in a way that the current crop of reporters and anchors could never understand or duplicate. Those men were mostly combat reporters, accustomed to living and working with the guys who fought and died during that horrible conflict. Eric Severeid, William L. Schirer, and Cronkite were known as “Murrow’s boys,” a label they wore proudly their entire professional lives.

Rather (like Brokaw) was too young for World War II but cut his reporting teeth at the feet of these giants. A certain kind of gruff honesty permeated their stories along with a well concealed, but very real love of America. That patriotism plus Dan’s middle American small town values gave him a dignity and courtliness so lacking in the cable anchors and other blow-dried, chipmunk-cheeked news readers of today.

Dan Rather is probably the last of the big-time news people to have their reporting and worldview shaped by the Second World War. This generation coming up had their reporting experience and worldview shaped during Watergate and the Viet Nam war. Does that make a difference?

If you watched Dan’s coverage of the events of September 11, 2001 you know that it does make a difference. His emotions were there for all to see, a refreshing change from the monotonous coverage on CNN (save Judy Woodruff’s tearful prayer. Woodruff made her bones at CBS with Rather and Cronkite). And here’s what Dan told Howard Kurtz just prior to the war in Afghanistan:

“What I want to do, I want to fulfill my role as a decent human member of the community and a decent and patriotic American. And therefore, I am willing to give the government, the President and the military the benefit of any doubt here in the beginning. I’m going to fulfill my role as a journalist, and that is ask the questions, when necessary ask the tough questions. But I have no excuse for, particularly when there is a national crisis such as this, as saying - you know, the President says do your job, whatever you are and whomever you are, Mr. and Mrs. America. I’m going to do my job as a journalist, but at the same time I will give them the benefit of the doubt, whenever possible in this kind of crisis, emergency situation. Not because I am concerned about any backlash. I’m not. But because I want to be a patriotic American without apology.”

Can you imagine Chris Matthews, Keith Olberman, Anderson Cooper, Paula Zahn, Brian Williams, or anyone else in an anchor chair saying that today?

Trust me on this; in five years, we’re going to long for the days of Brokaw and Rather. This new crop of news stars and their advocacy journalism will remind us that the simple patriotism and hard headed reporting represented by the Murrow-Cronkite-Rather lineage that’s ending tonight will be sorely missed.

And for me, one more sign that the days ahead are fewer than the days I’ve already seen.

Cross-Posted at Blogger News Network


Wizbang has a link to the video of Dan Rather’s sign-off plus links to other commentary.


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