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It All Started in a 5,000-Watt Radio Station in Fresno, California...
By Ed Driscoll · March 1, 2005 04:42 PM · Oh, That Liberal Media!

In honor of Dan Rather's last full week as anchorman at CBS, the Media Research Center have selected his most infamous moments to highlight. What's fascinating to me is how a man in his 60s, who's been a television reporter for most of his adult life can say answer two decades of partisanship with lines such as:

“I’m all news, all the time. Full power, tall tower. I want to break in when news breaks out. That’s my agenda. Now, respectfully, when you start talking about a liberal agenda and all the, quote, ‘liberal bias’ in the media, I quite frankly, and I say this respectfully but candidly to you, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
— To Denver radio host Mike Rosen, November 28, 1995.

“I’m in favor of strong defense, tight money, and clean water. I don’t know what that makes me. Whatever that makes me, that’s what I am.”
— On the July 19, 2001 Imus in the Morning radio program simulcast on MSNBC.

“The test is not the names people call you or accusations by political activists inside or outside your own organization. The test is what goes up on the screen and what comes out of the speaker. I think the public understands that those people are trying to create such a perception because they’re trying to force you to report the news the way they want you to report it. I am not going to do it. I will put up billboard space on 42nd Street. I will wear a sandwich board. I will do whatever is necessary to say I am not going to be cowed by anybody’s special political agenda, inside, outside, upside, downside.”
— Rejecting CBS reporter Bernard Goldberg’s charge that CBS exhibits a liberal bias, March 6, 1996 New York Post.

I know that that sort of fascade of objectivity was neccessary in the days when there were only three national commercial television networks and one or two newspapers per city, but why should Americans believe that a guy gets to reach such an exhaulted position as network anchorman without having some thoughts as to which party he prefers?

Of course, it lends much credence to Peggy Noonan's take on Rather, which was largely formed over the period that Noonan wrote for him:

If you were a young Dan Rather you knew which side was the side to be on. You knew which side your bosses were on. You knew which side would lead to your rise. And you knew which side would win.

It wasn't exactly complicated. Every conservative in America in the last century, especially in the media and in the colleges, knew they would be dinged and damaged if they held to their beliefs. Every liberal in the media and the academy knew they could rise if they espoused liberal views. Dan wanted to rise.

* * *

Ultimately this is what I think was true about Dan and his career. It's not very nice but I think it is true. He was a young, modestly educated Texas boy from nowhere, with no connections and a humble background. He had great gifts, though: physical strength, attractiveness, ambition, commitment and drive. He wanted to be a star. He was willing to learn and willing to pay his dues. He covered hurricanes and demonstrations, and when they got him to New York they let him know, as only an establishment can, what was the right way to think, the intelligent enlightened way, the Eastern way, the Ivy League way, the Murrow School of Social Justice way. They let him know his simple Texan American assumptions were not so much wrong as not fully thought through, not fully nuanced, not fully appreciative of the multilayered nature of international political realities. He swallowed it whole.

He had a strong Texas accent, but they let him know he wasn't in Texas anymore. I remember once a nice man, an executive producer, confided in me that he'd known Dan from the early days, from when he first came up to New York. He laughed, not completely unkindly, and told me Dan wore the wrong suits. I wish I could remember exactly what he said but it was something like, "He had a yellow suit!" There was a sense of: We educated him. Dan wound up in pinstripe suits made in London. Like Cyrus Vance. Like Clark Clifford. He got educated. He fit right in. And much of what he'd learned--from the civil rights movement, from Vietnam and from Watergate--allowed him to think he was rising in the right way and with the right crew and the right thinking.

Every once in a while, the Mary Tyler Moore Show would do an episode where Ted Baxter made it on national TV, if only for that week. (I think one particular episode sent him to Manhattan as a game show host.) Dan Rather illustrates what would have happened if Ted somehow stumbled upon a permanent career as a national newsman--with no core of his own, or one, that as Noonan noted, could be molded like Play Dough by his employers.

Fortunately, thanks to Fox News and the Blogosphere, there's less need to try to hide your biases today (although of course, Rather-like feigns of God-like Objectivity continue, if less often). As I wrote shortly after RatherGate broke:

One thing that Rather has in common with both Walter Cronkite, and Ted Baxter, another (albeit fictional) ex-CBS employee, is the belief that as a newsman, if he doesn't appear omniscient, he can't succeed. Imagine any blogger saying, "And that's the way it is", as Uncle Walter did every night and expecting his readers to trust him solely based on his word, without the reader following the links and doing his own digging.

No wonder Fox, with its "We report, you decide" motto, and the Blogosphere, with its "we link, you decide"--and probably start your own blog to tell us why if we're wrong--are pummeling CBS into the ground.

If Johnny Carson's retirement in the early 1990s was the end of one of TV's bright spots, then Rather's impeding swan song is its flipside. And it doesn't sound like he'll be missed by many of his co-workers at Black Rock, either.



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