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Norman Solomon: This Is Your Life, Dan Rather

Posted on Jun 21, 2006

By Norman Solomon

Mr. Rather, your departure from CBS has certainly stirred up a tornado of media hot wind—including plenty of accolades and no shortage of nostalgia, criticisms and laments that the network’s top executives were graceless as they pushed you out of the network.

The CBS News website reported that during your 50 years in broadcast journalism you “braved hurricanes, waded through flood waters, dodged bullets, comforted wounded GIs, mouthed off to presidents, wept on camera” and became “a lightning rod for conservatives.” The site’s long list of “memorable events” in your CBS career provided details on how you were “a witness to modern American history: the assassination of President Kennedy, the civil rights movement, Watergate, wars in Vietnam and Iraq.”

But in the retrospective media coverage of your career in recent days, I noticed that certain aspects of your professional behavior received notably short shrift.

Despite your reputation for speaking truth to power in Washington, your baseline seemed to be very different. For instance, in December 1985—when the Kremlin again extended a unilateral moratorium on nuclear bomb test explosions despite rebuffs from the Reagan administration—you began the CBS coverage by scoffing: “Well, a little pre-Christmas propaganda in the air, a new arms control offer from Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.”

After the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, your coverage from that country could hardly have been more enthusiastic about the U.S.-backed mujahedin rebels. Analysts at the media watch group FAIR (where I’m an associate) noted that “CBS coverage of Afghanistan often resembled artisan war propaganda more than reporting.”

In fact, Mr. Rather, it seems fair to say that—in a fashion typical of prominent TV news correspondents—you routinely treated wars as catalysts for patriotic greatness. At the close of the Gulf War, on Feb. 27, 1991, you wrapped up a broadcast interview with the 1st Marine Division commander by shaking his hand and declaring: “Again, general, congratulations on a job wonderfully done!”

Six days after Sept. 11, you went on David Letterman’s show and served as a role model for automatically obeying the man behind the desk in the Oval Office. “George Bush is the president,” you told viewers, “he makes the decisions.” Speaking as “one American,” you added: “Wherever he wants me to line up, just tell me where. And he’ll make the call.”

Sometimes, after the passions of war have cooled a bit, you’ve sounded briefly self-reproachful about journalistic excesses of zeal for the U.S. war effort. That was the case eight months after Sept. 11 when you told BBC Television on May 16, 2002, that fear of being labeled unpatriotic had caused American journalists to engage in “a form of self-censorship.” And, to your credit, you added that “I do not except myself from this criticism.”

But less than a year later, in April 2003, you went on CNN’s “Larry King Live” and proclaimed: “Look, I’m an American. I never tried to kid anybody that I’m some internationalist or something. And when my country is at war, I want my country to win, whatever the definition of ‘win’ may be. Now, I can’t and don’t argue that that is coverage without a prejudice. About that I am prejudiced.”

Well, Mr. Rather, I realize that no career can be summed up with just a few examples. Occasionally you were willing to go out on a limb to function as an independent-minded journalist and confront top U.S. government officials. More often, you were extreme in your fawning treatment of the powerful.

But most of all, you succumbed to the pattern that you aptly described back in a 1989 interview, pointing out that you—like so many other journalists—kept going back to “a shockingly small ... circle of experts [who] ... get called upon time after time after time.”

While you’re leaving broadcast news, that kind of over-reliance on official sources and conventional wisdom seems to be more entrenched than ever.

Norman Solomon’s latest book, “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death,” is now available in paperback. To find out more about Norman Solomon and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate website,



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By Tim, May 15, 2007 at 7:22 am Link to this comment
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He has also hosted a documentary on the Kennedy assassination very supportive of the Warren report.  The show presents a very one-sided body of evidence, with no testimony from Parkland doctors or anyone who heard shots from behind the picket fence.  He concludes by saying there is “not a shred of evidence” for a conspiracy.

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By Craig Schroeder, June 25, 2006 at 10:40 am Link to this comment
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Thanks, Norman Solomon, for this look beyond the typical half-inch-deep coverage given by mainstream news outlets.

I’ve felt for a long time like Dan Rather was a guy who was uncomfortable sucking up to power the way he was expected to by his employer and the right-wing echo chamber. He looked like his marching uniform was too tight, as if he would have taken it off given a chance.

HIs broadcast in which he suggested that the Bush National Guard document may have been forged by Bush supporters as a time bomb with which to draw out and then silence Bush’s critics—- stuff like that sometimes seemed to be what Rather ached to do, and must have taken some serious guts. But then, how to resolve that with the spasms of nationalism you mentioned is a question that hangs right there. How do we square his understanding of the dangers of what he called “sweetheart journalism” with such jingoistic remarks as “When my country goes to war I want it to win, whatever win means”?

It kinda looks like that side of Rather was his “save-my-ass-from-extinction” side. The trump card he could pull out when they accused him of being un-American.

Unfortunately, many innocent people were slaughtered and continue to die so mainstream journalists can play that card. That’s what makes it such a shame.

To quote FAIR’s Janine Jackson, “Bad media hurts real people.”

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By Bruce, June 25, 2006 at 10:19 am Link to this comment
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He was an excellent speaker, very easy and interesting to listen to.  His part in the then cutting edge program 60 minutes was a breakthough in journalism.  He was jewish at birth but orphaned and raised by foster parents and knew something about Vietnam first hand.  Good thing he’s still alive.  We said it would never happen again, those critical of Israel should also read:

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By Colonel, June 22, 2006 at 7:39 am Link to this comment
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DAN RATHER never seemed comfortable before the TV camera. You got the message that so far as he was concerned the broadcast was fundamentally ABOUT HIM more than the news he was reading. In other words, he was a phony.

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By July Canute, June 22, 2006 at 4:24 am Link to this comment
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The pot should not call the kettle black. HOW MANY TIMES HAS FAIR TAKEN ON THE MEDIA FOR FAILING TO REPORT THAT 9-11 HAPPENED BECAUSE OF OUR POLICIES TOWARD ISRAEL?  It didn’t happen because Arabs are jealous or because they are maniacs who like for their children to strap on bombs and commit suicide so they can have virgins in the afterlife. 

How many times did FAIR object to the lies Donald Rumsfeld told at the recent dedication of the 9-11 memorial?  HOW MANY?  What have you done to correct the lies told about Arabs and the manner in which they have been scapegoated to take the blame for what Jews and Israelis have done?  How many times have Christians been scapegoated to take the blame for what Jews and Israel have done and how many times has FAIR set the record straight?

You are not good enough to even speak Dan Rather’s name.

I have seen Muslims horribly slandered and dragged through the mud but where was FAIR to call the media to task and demand that the truth be told about why we were attacked on 9-11?  Tell us Mr Solomon?  Explain this to us.  We have a right to know.  The Muslims and Arabs have a right to know.

We dropped 500 pound bombs on these people and used the only military in the world against them and then FAIR sat by while they were slandered and maligned by the media didn’t you?

For years FAIR has constantly talked about a seperation of church and state and used that term to justify vicious, bigoted attacks upon Christians.  If the same things were being said about Jews that you have said about Christians you would jump on a soapbox and call it anti-semitism.

The United States Constitution says zero, absolutely nothing, regarding seperation of church and state.  I suppose only those who care about the Constitution would know that though.  At the same moment you were attacking Christians and attempting to “get them out of government” you were saying NOTHING about Jews in government.  So how are you any better than Dan Rather?  Please explain.

Our local Court House was built in the 1700s and burnt to the ground by General Sherman on his march to the sea.  Later it was rebuilt and during all those years there was never a time when Christians were not in it and that is true of Court Houses across this land.  We built this nation and we don’t want to see it destroyed nor do we want to see the israelization of it.  So spare us talk about getting Christians out of government. 

Even now FAIR is talking about the government propaganda against war protestors but I see that as no different than Jews’ propaganda against Christians.  Why don’t you name names and tell everyone who is behind the propaganda.  Why don’t you tell people why we are in the middle east since George Bush and Hillary Clinton don’t seem to be able to.

I get the sense all over the internet that most democrats are sick of the liberals and jews out of the northeast.  Just like Martin Luther King went north and learned about the people and stated that he had not seen hatred like he found in the north anywhere in the south, rank and file Democrats all over the nation came online and got to know the liberals and jews.  After finding out what you’re like we are not very impressed and we are sick of how you are destroying our party and our country.

You act so righteous and yet you are just as hypocritical and sorry as Dan Rather could ever be.  Yesterday I read somewhere online about a lawsuit against a company for refusing to hire illegal Mexicans because the lawsuit said “its illegal to discriminate in hiring”!  HA!  That sums up liberals in a nutshell!  You are phony hypocrites and those of us in the heartland should take our party back from you before you completely destroy it and our country. 

I know what Dan Rather is and I’d perfer the likes of Dan Rather a thousand times over to liberals.  I gave up believeing in Jewish myth and legend a long time ago but I came back to defending Christians after meeting a few jews and liberals and seeing what you are like. 

Thank god for the internet and for Al Gore’s idea of the internet for everyone.  Keep taking all the rope you need Mr Solomon.  The internet will allow everyone to get to know you very well.  If I can figure it out anyone can.

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