So Dan would rather not anymore, and, really, who could blame him? Lately he had been feeling like a cockatoo on a cactus, anyway. Once you lose the hankerin’ for anchorin’, it’s hard to keep showin’ up every day. To make it work, you have to come in each morning with the passion of a fruit fly in a manure factory. Nope, the fire in the belly is gone. Time for new horizons, new adventures, like an orangutan in a bowling alley. Meet folks you haven’t met afore.
Oh, he could linger if he wished. He could leave his anchor aweigh in the inertia of dotage. He could sag at the desk with yellowing calendar leaves wilting on the studio wall. Even if too old to ponder, you’re never too old to be ponderous. He could sit there until he’s a joke, until he’s an old joke, until he’s an off-color joke, until he’s a joke where we forgot the punch line. But he faced reality like a hamster in a beehive. He tendered his resignation with resignation.
Now let’s not worry about Dan as an individual. He’ll be well taken care of in the Liberal Retirement System which includes a large margarine bar of flattery slathered on a crispy baguette of confiscatory lecture fees. Let us examine rather the implications for the larger culture. Concerning that, two points.
Number one, even if Dan was planning to do this anyway, the perception will remain that it was catalyzed by a single event, that he was turned away at the Guard Gate. His career may have had no more peaks and valleys than the average, but the battle most remembered will be the one at Valley Forge. The fact is that the last impression will be the strongest, and people will have the sense that he left in disgrace.
Whether or not that is accurate or whether it is fair to Rather, one very valuable side effect will be the solidification of the lesson of the forged National Guard documents. Reporters everywhere, journalists, pundits, golden-haired cubs and silver-haired veterans, will internalize this in a profound way.
The whole left-wing (or “sinister,” which means the same thing) news world that was birthed by Cronkite and his ilk have been driving their coverage with a license for an entire generation. The news is their baby and they get to give it a name.
You see, news as it happens is an unfinished product in their eyes, a crude representation of reality. It’s their job to trim it and prune it, to prime it and paint it, to buff it and puff it and fluff it, to brown it and crown it, to tan it and fan it, to hold it and mold it, to shape it and scrape it, to tamp it and stamp it, to dress it and press it.
The only sort-of limit had been: don’t make it and fake it. Old Dan, desperate for relevance like a cockroach in a junkyard, crossed this line, whether through stupidity or malice. Now the whole enterprise is threatened. He is an establishment figure that cannot be dismissed and marginalized; he is no Janet Cooke or Stephen Glass or Jayson Blair.
Hopefully, some intimidation factor will be achieved, some deterrent value, some reigniting of the age-old principle of “Truth or Consequences.” The next time Mary Mapes calls to report that she has an eyewitness placing George W. Bush on the grassy knoll in Dallas in 1963, perhaps they’ll just let the answering machine pick up.
The second point worth considering is the fact that all this has transpired concurrently with the rise of new media, from talk radio all the way to the intrepid men in flannel building a bonfire with their blogs. Perhaps this confluence will serve to inspire a new generation of intrepid reporters of the Right, or at least the non-Left. Is it too much to hope that the corrupt path blazed by Walter Cronkite distorting the Tet Offensive, having gone around, will now come around?
Are we being unduly optimistic in noting that this setback for CBS is actually a window of opportunity, a chance to redefine the nature of the TV news report? Call me a fool or a naïf, but even Pollyanna wants a crack at it sometimes.
It would be a brilliant decision, a truly inspired one, if CBS replaced Rather with a person who eschews partiality in all its misshapen forms. We could see a brave new world where a plain Joe could go every Friday to get just the facts, ma’am. And CBS could drag other networks along this brave trail toward the truth.
As for me, just the joy of seeing the CBS logo over a head other than Dan’s will have me dancing with joy, doing a jig, like a Chihuahua in an alfalfa patch.
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