Are you running for something?” Richard Nixon asked Dan Rather at a March 1974 press conference.
“No, sir, Mr. President,” the CBS newsman replied. “Are you?”
Five months later, Nixon left the White House in disgrace. Three decades after that, Rather left the network in disgrace. He had become the Richard Nixon of news.
Like the post-presidential Nixon, Rather has been waging a campaign to rehabilitate himself—although unlike Nixon, who expressed regret for the scandal that sank his career, Rather has not acknowledged doing wrong.
This summer Rather, styling himself an elder statesman of journalism, made a proposal aimed at saving the news business. In a July Aspen Institute speech and an August Washington Post op-ed, Rather endorsed a long-standing leftist critique of the media: that they are controlled by corporations and therefore in the pocket of the government.
As he wrote in the Post:
The big conglomerates that own most of America’s news media may have, at any given moment, multiple regulatory, procurement and legislative matters before various arms of the federal government; their interests, therefore, can often run contrary to the interests of the citizens whom journalism, at its best, is meant to serve. There is little incentive to report without fear or favoritism on the same government one is trying to lobby. Increasingly, the news we get—and, significantly, the news we don’t get—reflects this conflict of interests.
His remedy, believe it or not, is to call on the government for help:
I want the president to convene a nonpartisan, blue-ribbon commission to assess the state of the news as an institution and an industry and to make recommendations for improving and stabilizing both.
Why bring the president into it? Because this is the only way I could think of to generate the sort of attention this subject deserves.…
This is a crisis that, with no exaggeration, threatens our democratic republic at its core. But you won’t hear about it on your evening news, unless the message can be delivered in a way that corporate media have little choice but to report—such as, say, the findings of a presidential commission.
Imagine the ridicule with which Rather would have greeted a proposal for a presidential commission on news in 1974. Of course, that was the heyday of adversarial journalism, when reporters were instrumental in bringing down a president. Perhaps the ensuing decades made the media more compliant.
Yet surely Rather would not have approved of such a proposal, much less put it forward himself, as recently as one year ago—that is, during the presidency of George W. Bush. Lest we forget, Rather’s down-fall was occasioned by a hit piece on Bush, then seeking reelection, that turned out to be based on fraudulent documents. The problem was neither fear nor favor, just appallingly shoddy work.
The truth is that the media’s attitude toward government tends to vary based on party and ideology. It is far more adversarial when Republicans are in power. If journalists now show favoritism toward the government, it is mostly because Barack Obama, probably the most liberal president in history, now runs it.
Far from speaking truth to power, journalists increasingly regard those in power as authoritative on questions of truth. Last month in this column, I described how the Associated Press, in its “fact check” articles, has repeatedly presented Obama campaign promises as “facts” refuting putative Republican “false-hoods.”
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?