It is not surprising that Dan Rather is mired in a controversy involving Texas Democrats: a few years ago he was raising money for them. Rather appeared as the star guest at a 2001 fundraiser for the Travis County Democratic Party in Texas.
It looked like Rather had finally acknowledged his calling. But Rather wasn’t yet ready to go legitimate. He insisted that he had no idea he was helping raise $20,000 for the Democrats. Rather’s storied ear-to-the-ground reporting apparently failed him prior to the event. “I didn’t ask the question, and I should have,” he said, explaining his ignorance of the event’s fundraising purpose. He did, however, admit to Howard Kurtz in the Washington Post that “When I got there, I was very aware that it was a fundraising event.” Yet that didn’t stop him from speaking anyway.
Rather refused to see himself as a fundraiser for the Democratic Party. But Texas Democrats managed to envision him in the role. So, too, did his daughter Robin, a prominent liberal environmentalist in Texas who helped host the fundraiser.
This year Rather is again lending a hand to Texas Democrats, and again playing dumb about it. He can’t raise funds for them anymore but he can serve as a clearinghouse for their attacks on Bush’s National Guard service in Texas. Rather’s career arc looks complete: he has gone from nipping at the heels of Richard Nixon for a third-rate burglary to serving as the Democrats’ copy boy for what looks like a third-rate forgery.
NIXON ONCE FAMOUSLY asked Rather if he was “running” for something. He was. He didn’t run for office for the Democrats but he has been running media campaigns for them. Texas Democrats had good reason to believe they had a Texas Democratic sympathizer at one of the major networks to serve as a stooge for their stories. Rather says his neutrality is far too Olympian for him to be an activist for the agenda of Democrats in Texas. But Travis County Democrats know differently.
“When you start talking about a liberal agenda and all the ‘liberal bias’ in the media, I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Rather has said in between writing articles for the Nation magazine and burbling to Bill Clinton, “If we could be one-hundredth as great as you and Hillary Rodham Clinton have been in the White House, we’d take it right now and walk away winners.”
Jonathan Klein, a former CBS executive, defends the “60 Minutes II” debacle at CBS by asking Americans if they trust anti-Rather bloggers — a “guy sitting in his living room in his pajamas writing” — over a veteran newsman and an established news organization. The American people, with good reason, are choosing the guy in his pajamas. Klein’s remark encapsulates the mindless credentialism, sham authority, and elitist insularity that has made CBS so repellent to ordinary Americans. The American people can see that their aging media emperors have less clothing on than pajama-clad bloggers. The tidy world of credentialed news gave us the Jayson Blairs and Janet Cookes, the bogus documents of Seymour Hersh, the phony Dateline car blow-ups, and now 1970s documents produced on 1990s computers. For news executives sitting on a whitened sepulcher, disparaging appearances is the only insult left.
Rather reclined upon this rotting monolith for decades. But it can’t contain the decay much longer, just as Bernard Goldberg tried to tell Rather. Populist cable will outstrip corrupt elitist network news, Goldberg predicted to his scornful CBS colleagues. It didn’t take long for his prediction to come true with CBS now trailing cable in convention coverage. Goldberg, it is worth recalling, was expected to be a correspondent on 60 Minutes II, but Rather boxed him out of the job after Goldberg wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed noting habitual liberal bias at the networks. Had Goldberg been heeded instead of exiled, CBS could have avoided its credibility-destroying 60 Minutes II infomercial for the Democrats. Rather has concluded his career with the same bias that launched it. What’s different is that he can’t get away with it anymore. Goldberg was telling him that the world had changed. But he wouldn’t listen.
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