Rather Blasts 'Huge Corporations' that Intrude into Newsrooms

     Bitterness still resonates with former “CBS Evening News” anchor Dan Rather after his 2004 election Bush National Guard failure and his eventual 2006 departure.


     Rather, now employed by HDNet – a television network described as a “high-definition” network – faulted corporate influences and the lack of public awareness for the current media climate that led to his downfall at a media session November 26. (Click here for audio.)


     “The biggest thing is that you need public support for the view that big government and these huge corporations are intruding too many times – not everywhere, not all the time, too many times – into newsrooms,” Rather said. “And we know that the beating heart of a democracy is a free press – a free and independent press.”


     So what needs to be done according to this veteran journalist?


     “Well, the first thing is to get back to, in my opinion, a sense of news being a public trust,” Rather said. “And that a news division, a news department of a large company would certainly be expected to make money, but perhaps not as much as some other areas of the company.”


     Rather acknowledged the need for a profit incentive for the press, but complained there isn’t enough “space” between the corporate motivations and the journalism motivations.


     “The main thing is to see it in the public interest,” Rather said. “Listen, I’ve worked in commercial television and radio my entire career. The company needs to make money, wants to make money. … There needs to be a wall – we call it a firewall – between the corporate entity, which has all these other interests – everything from building aircraft engines to having billboards … We have to have some airspace, I would say, between the corporate entity and you.”


     Rather appeared at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. to participate in a roundtable discussion with NBC White House Correspondent David Gregory, New York Times White House correspondent David Sanger, and former White House bureau chief and correspondent for United Press International Helen Thomas to discuss covering the White House as a member of the media. The discussion is set for broadcast on “The Kalb Report,” a public affairs program hosted by veteran journalist Marvin Kalb.


     Rather said “big government and huge corporations” were intruding too many times in the newsrooms. But, when David Gregory of NBC News steps in and sounds like the voice of reason, you know something is amiss. (Click here with audio.)


     “[I] have spent plenty of time with the CEO of General Electric (NYSE GE), who has looked us all dead in the eye and said, ‘You go out there and cover the stories that need to be covered and you cover politics, and you do what you need to do,” Gregory said. “And in my time at NBC, I have felt that.”


     Still, Rather maintained his conspiratorial assertion that the government has too many influences when it came to other business interests of corporations that owned news outlets, claiming it is “unhealthy for democracy.” (Click here for audio.)


    “What I outlined before has to do with not just what the companies have in the way of and need legislative and regulatory help in Washington, having to do with broadcasts and cable over the airwaves, they have a full range of things – all kinds of military contracts, all kinds of other things,” Rather said. “So, it isn’t just in the area of FCC that the people who own the networks need legislative and regulatory help, there’s a whole range of other things.”


     Rather was let go by CBS News in 2006, but he traced the climate that set up his downfall to the Internet and the aftermath of 9/11. (Click here for audio.)


     “These days it’s instantaneous,” Rather said about the Internet and the 24-hour news cycle. “Before you even face the question, those with the partisan political and/or ideological agenda will do the effect of dropping a safe on you from six floors up and very quickly. And, that affects the journalists. There has been a tendency, more than ever I think, to just move with the herd – get in the middle and move with the herd – and it’s harder to be heard that way.”


     After September 11, Rather suggested some journalists were gun shy when it came to asking the “tough questions,” for fear of being branded unpatriotic. (Click here for audio.)


      “Very quickly after 9/11, those highly-partisan, politically partisan supporters of the administration and some people who felt passionately about their ideology saw an opening and the opening was, ‘If you question, if you dig, if you go against anything, just even look like you’re going to raise a question – we’re going to hang a sign around you that says ‘unpatriotic,’ or some version of that,’ and that led to fear.”