Dan Rather reflects on his 60-year career in journalism. He says he can’t remember a time he didn’t want to be a journalist. In 44 years at CBS News, Dan Rather reported from the front lines of the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam War and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. He was the first network reporter to confirm President Kennedy’s assassination. He stayed on air for 18 hours straight after the September eleventh attacks. But he was pushed out of the anchor chair at CBS Evening News eight years ago after documents he used in a piece about President George W. Bush’s National Guard Service were discredited. career and defends his reputation. Dan Rather explains why he still stands behind the truth of the story.

Guests

  • Dan Rather managing editor and anchor of the television news magazine Dan Rather Reports on the cable channel HDNet and former anchor of the CBS Evening News.

Related Video

The Diane Rehm Show (http://wamu.fm/JU0GOq): Former CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather talks about his last days at the network and his impressions of Viacom and CBS majority owner Sumner Redstone. According to Rather, Redstone publicly stated before the 2004 presidential election that he hoped George W. Bush would be elected to a second term in office because it would be good for Viacom if he were:

Read An Excerpt

Excerpt from Dan Rather’s “Rather Outspoken: My Life In The News.” Copyright 2012 by Dan Rather. All rights reserved. Reprinted here by permission of Grand Central Publishing:

Transcript

  • 11:06:54

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Dan Rather spent 44 years at CBS, 24 as the face and voice of the news division. Eight years ago, he was forced out of the evening news anchor chair in the wake of a controversial "60 Minutes" report on President George W. Bush's National Guard service.

  • 11:07:20

    MS. DIANE REHMIn a new memoir, he reveals what went on behind the scenes and why he decided to sue CBS for $70 million. The title of his book is "Rather Outspoken" and Dan Rather joins me in the studio to talk about his long career in journalism. You're welcome to be part of the program. Call us on 800-433-8850. Send your email to drshow@wamu.org. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning, Dan, it's good to see you.

  • 11:08:02

    MR. DAN RATHERGood morning, Diane, good to see you again.

  • 11:08:04

    REHMThank you. Remind us of the story about George W. Bush's National Guard service.

  • 11:08:15

    RATHERWell, in brief, we reported a true story that the young George Bush got into a so-called Champagne National Guard Air Unit because of his father's influence. He didn't want to go to Vietnam as many young men didn't at that time. His father's influence got him into the Air National Guard. He performed at least reasonably well for a while, but then at one point, his abilities, his flying abilities, diminished and for some reason, he scaled down on what he had to fly.

  • 11:08:55

    RATHERBut the central thing is that he disappeared for a year during his service, that if a soldier in Afghanistan or an airman in Afghanistan disappears for a couple of days without permission, he's in very serious trouble. So we reported that story and for people who didn't like it, particularly partisan, political people and others, attacked the story with what I call a smokescreen.

  • 11:09:26

    RATHERThey attacked the documents which were a part of what we'd used to report the story. But as you know, Diane, good journalist that you are, journalists mesh information, the documents were a part. But basically that's what happened and nobody denied the truth of the report. What many people questioned was, well, you used these documents and the documents became the frame of reference rather than the truth of the story.

  • 11:09:56

    REHMAnd were the documents accurate or not accurate?

  • 11:09:59

    RATHERThe documents were accurate in describing what his commander at the time, Colonel Killian, who is no longer alive and wasn't when we got the documents -- there's almost total agreement that the information in the documents is correct. The attack, what I call the smokescreen attack, was, well, yes, the information in the documents is correct, but these documents are not the actual documents that were put in the Colonel's file.

  • 11:10:27

    REHMThere were those who said the documents were forged.

  • 11:10:31

    RATHERWell, but what proof do they have that they were forged? That Colonel Killian's signature was on the document. I recognize that this has been a long time ago, Diane.

  • 11:10:45

    REHMRight.

  • 11:10:45

    RATHERI want to emphasize that "Rather Outspoken," this is about less than one quarter of the book, but I want to answer your question. That basically the argument is, listen, at best, these documents were copies of copies that someone made and they superimposed Colonel Killian's signature on it. I do want to emphasize that while the burden was on us to say we believe these documents are correct and prove them, that even to this late date, nobody has proven the documents were forged.

  • 11:11:19

    RATHERAnd even the so-called "independent commission" which was appointed by CBS to "investigate it". I put it in quotes because the commission was made up of friends of the Bush family to investigate what we did. But even they say -- they concluded that all of the challenges about typeface and about signatures proved to be wrong, in their opinion.

  • 11:11:45

    REHMYou actually apologized on the air for this incident. Are you saying that you shouldn't have apologized?

  • 11:11:57

    RATHERWell, you can't go back and play it over again, but what I detailed in "Rather Outspoken" is how that apology came to be. Remember that I had been at CBS News for, at the time this happened, 42 plus years. I believed in the institution and the whole history of the institution was when we get in trouble in a story, we go into the story together, we ride through it together and we come out of the story together.

  • 11:12:26

    RATHERAnd what was said to me is, Dan, directly, the story is true, but we're catching so much hell about the document business that we're going to appoint this commission, "independent commission," and we're going to apologize and you've always played team. You've always understood the institutional importance of CBS News and we want you to read an on-the-air apology.

  • 11:12:50

    RATHERNow, no question I was sorry that we caught so much trouble from this incident. It dragged the name of CBS News through the print. I was genuinely sorry for that. The apology was written basically by the president of the news division. I was asked to read it and I did so and that's a fact.

  • 11:13:12

    REHMLooking back -- and I realize once again, eight years ago, considering the fact that you were asked to read something that was written by those at the top, would it have been better perhaps to resign?

  • 11:13:32

    RATHERWell, might have, could have, should have. I'm not a person that plays that game. That argument had been made. By the way, it wasn't made by anybody at CBS News at that time. But, you know, Diane, I'm in a good place now. I'm at peace about this. I've written my side of the story giving, I hope, not too much detail on every point you've made here.

  • 11:13:58

    RATHERI've moved on from it. You say, well, you've moved on from it, but the book. I didn't want to write the book when I first was forced to leave CBS News. I was disappointed, puzzled.

  • 11:14:11

    REHMAngry?

  • 11:14:12

    RATHERI feared that, you know, I would reflect resentment or anger about it so I didn't want to write when I first left. And I tried writing it about two or three years ago and found myself saying, I don't think it's quite time. So the time came. I'm right about this, but what I basically wanted to do with this "Rather Outspoken" -- I think, on my better days, I'm a pretty good storyteller. I should be after this long as a reporter and I have stories to tell around the family dinner table or around the fireplace about the civil rights movement, about Vietnam, about stories I've covered so I wanted to put in the book some of these stories.

  • 11:14:57

    RATHERI realized I couldn't publish that book without dealing with what you rightly started the program with so I reached a point where I said, you know, I'm now at that stage where I can write this without anger, without resentment. I'll just lay it out as candidly as I can, as Lyndon Johnson used to say, write it with the bark off, and see what the reaction is.

  • 11:15:19

    REHMDan Rather and his new book all about his life in the news is titled "Rather Outspoken." Join us 800-433-8850. Send us your email to drshow@wamu.org. Feel free to join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. You do tell a great many stories in this book one of which is that you had an indication of some trouble for you at CBS four months before the Bush story and it was about the decision-making involved in your Abu Ghraib story. Tell us.

  • 11:16:15

    RATHERWell, before we did the Bush National Guard story, again, I emphasize a true story, we broke on a world-wide exclusive basis the story of Abu Ghraib. We had this story quite a while before the network ran it. In great puzzlement to me, we had this story, as they say on the street, eight ways from Sunday. We had eyewitness testimony. We had proof of it and we were ready to go with it.

  • 11:16:52

    RATHERThe management of CBS News curiously to me said, well we think you need to do more. We got pictures, no question the pictures were valid. There's no question that they were posed or anything. We got the pictures. Still, they wouldn't run it. It was never explained to me clearly why, but each time we got to the point where it was, okay, we're ready to run it, they moved the goalpost and said, well, not quite ready yet. And they delayed the story week after week.

  • 11:17:23

    REHMAnd just to remind listeners, these were details, even photographs you had of what was going on inside Abu Ghraib Prison?

  • 11:17:37

    RATHERThat's right. And quite frankly, when we first got on to the story, I said to myself, I don't think this is true, when we first heard about abuses going on. And for whatever anyone wants to believe, I was hoping against hope the story wasn't true. I've spent a lot of time around American military personnel going back to the Vietnam War. I have great respect for them, what they do, but it turned out to be a truth, an awful truth.

  • 11:18:07

    RATHERBut we had the story and the CBS News tradition is when you have it, you don't pause, you don't hesitate, but there was a long hesitation. In the end, it wasn't until Sy Hersh, one of the great investigative reporters of our time, some of our sources on Abu Ghraib kept calling and saying, when are you going to run it? And we'd say, well, maybe next week, maybe the next week, but it wasn't until Sy Hersh got the story that the management said in effect, well, now we've got to run it.

  • 11:18:36

    REHMDan Rather, his new book is titled "Rather Outspoken: My Life in the News." Short break and right back.

  • 11:20:05

    REHMAnd welcome back. I'm sure many of you have recognized the voice of the man here in the studio with me. Dan Rather has spent more than 40 years in the news business. He's now written a book titled, "Rather Outspoken." And if you'd like to join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to drshow@wamu.org. Join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Here's an email from Peter in Tarrytown, NY who says: Given what happened to you at CBS and charges of unsubstantiated documentation, what are your views about Rupert Murdoch's current problems regarding his various news organizations and the reliability of their news?"

  • 11:21:15

    RATHERIt's a good question, partly because what's happened to Rupert Murdoch and Great Britain has not been widely reported in the American press. There are some exceptions to that in New York. But this story is not widely known. Whatever one thinks of Rupert Murdoch doesn't think of him. He's been a brilliant businessman. But the question now is, has he used his media properties as tools to put forward his own ideological and partisan political references?

  • 11:21:52

    RATHERAnd more importantly, the core of it is, in gathering news, did he and his operations or did they not hack in to people's telephones and get private conversations to develop stories. It seems to be established as a fact that that happened, which is very serious. For example, a child who was killed, hacking in to the phone services of family, very serious charges. It's been established. The question is whether Mr. Murdoch knew whether that was going on or not.

  • 11:22:29

    RATHERBut I think the spirit of this question, what he has to do with what are we to make of an enormous consolidation of media empires over the last 15, 20 years, even going back further and the effect on a free, truly free and independent press. That, as we sit here today, Diane, that no more than six, my count is four, but no more than six large international corporations with all kinds of other business beside news control about 80 percent or more of the true national distribution of news in this country.

  • 11:23:06

    RATHERNow, I'm not any corporate, I'm not any capitalist, but we have to pull what we call on television the wide shot and understand the effect it has had and is having on the news we see and hear that big corporations need things out of big power, big government in Washington. And I hope you'll excuse my language if necessary that these big conglomerate operations are in bed with big government whether the government in power in Washington is Democratic or Republican.

  • 11:23:43

    RATHERAnd they need each other. The corporations, they need defense business, they need legislation passed, they want legislation stopped. And of course the powers in Washington, they want good coverage.

  • 11:23:55

    REHMSurely that includes CBS?

  • 11:23:59

    RATHERYes.

  • 11:24:01

    REHMAnd going back to what we were talking about before the break, the reluctance of CBS to move forward on the Abu Ghraib story until Seymour Hersh came in with additional information. Why do you believe that management was so reluctant to move with your story at that time and then not stand behind you when the Bush story came out?

  • 11:24:38

    RATHERWell, Sumner Redstone who owns most of Viacom, CBS had been folded into the Viacom. This was at least the third time of consolidation. But Mr. Redstone said publicly that he wanted George Bush reelected because it was good for Viacom. Not that it was anything to do with public service or the integrity of news, it was he wanted George Bush elected. Now, I think queuing off that, those below him but still high up in the corporate super structure took the attitude whatever Mr. Redstone wants, Mr. Redstone gets.

  • 11:25:20

    RATHERAnd he doesn't want these reporters poking around, investigating, digging in to powerful people from whom Mr. Redstone needs to get some favors to help his business. It's an old story that institutions begin to take on the personality and character of their leaders. And Viacom was led then and still led by Mr. Redstone. I think that permeated all the way down the CBS News I grew up in.

  • 11:25:47

    RATHERThe CBS News that the American people learned to trust from Ed Murrow's time through Walter Cronkite's time and beyond was the CBS News that had the following view. News is a public trust. We want to be responsible and we want to meet the responsibilities of that trust. News is a public service. Yes, if it can make money, and we always hope it will make money, that's fine. But that's not the major purpose of the news division within the CBS larger corporation.

  • 11:26:20

    RATHERBut with each consolidation of the company, the high management and ownership of the company got further and further removed from news to the point where nobody wanted to talk about public service anymore, nobody wanted to talk about what's responsible, to the point if you walked in and said, listen, I think we need to do a primetime hour on Afghanistan or what's happening in Sudan, somebody will say, well, that's not going to get rating, that's not going to get demographics.

  • 11:26:52

    RATHERAnd you say, well, yes, but it would be a public service. If you mention public service, one of two things will happen. Either they'd call them in from institution or think you were smoking something very expensive.

  • 11:27:06

    REHMBut, Dan, what you're acknowledging is that the corporate culture worked its way down into CBS News management.

  • 11:27:20

    RATHERExactly.

  • 11:27:22

    REHMAnd that affected how you were treated and what happened afterwards. It was not just that you ultimately were taken out of the anchor chair. How many other people at CBS lost their jobs because of that story?

  • 11:27:45

    RATHERWell, at least five other people lost their jobs because of that story. And I would argue, in a subsidiary way, some others did. But you've laid it out for what it was. And for far too long, I didn't want to believe it. When these strange things happened with the Abu Ghraib story constantly postponing, listen, this was a worldwide great story, I want to say, great story, terrible story.

  • 11:28:09

    REHMAnd now what you believe is that that was aimed at you.

  • 11:28:15

    RATHERI think it was the beginning of the end for me. That just after we ran the Abu Ghraib story on "60 Minutes" the corporate side of the network wanted to kill the program.

  • 11:28:31

    REHMWant to kill "60 Minutes," too?

  • 11:28:34

    RATHERToo. Just after we ran the Abu Ghraib program. Now, in fairness, other things, ratings and demographics, but it didn't escape my notice they tried to kill the program. The only reason they didn't kill it is the argument was made to them, you got to be kidding. We'd just broken this Abu Ghraib story. We've gotten credit for that. It's not wise for you to come behind and kill this broadcast just after we run the Abu Ghraib story. So...

  • 11:29:02

    REHMAnd what was their rationale?

  • 11:29:06

    RATHERWell, their rationale was we've moved the program around the schedule and we have some entertainment programs we think can do better on this schedule and we have the red hot entertainment programs from Hollywood we want to move in. This happens all the time. And, again, Diane, I'm trying as hard as I can to be fair that the people in the corporate side, they are basically in the entertainment business.

  • 11:29:28

    RATHERMost of television is entertainment. And their focus is on that. And, say, "60 Minutes" too not doing quite as well on their ratings as it once did. And besides that, they're trouble. You know, they're causing this trouble in Washington. Nobody in Washington wants this Abu Ghraib story out. In fact, they tried to stop it. And increasingly, that's where it went. But let's stop and think about what the effect is.

  • 11:29:53

    RATHERThis doesn't happen just at CBS News. I'm not suggesting that exactly the same thing happen. But the idea of the corporation as a whole, one gets stockholder over value up, wanted to increase their payment. Mr. Les Moonves, the president and CEO of CBS now was paid $70 million last year. And by the way...

  • 11:30:17

    REHMAnd that's 7-0.

  • 11:30:19

    RATHERSeven-zero, $70 million. Now, I want to emphasize, Mr. Moonves, with whom I've had difficulty, he's brilliant on the entertainment side. And Mr. Sumner Redstone apparently thinks he's worth the $70 million. And if you earned it, nobody should have any complaints with it. My point is that he's an entertainment person. He didn't like the CBS News that had been built by Ed Murrow and Walter Cronkite. He said it one time.

  • 11:30:48

    RATHERHe told New York Times, if I had my way, I'd build the whole thing up -- talking about CBS News -- and start over for a new thing. And his attitude was, listen, Ed Murrow has been dead for a long time. I'm kind of tired of hearing about Ed Murrow and all this stuff. And so he eventually tried to do it his way. I was gone from the evening news. He hired Katie Couric, a big name in the business and a good person, an established personality.

  • 11:31:16

    RATHERAnd his vision was he wanted to take "The Today Show" ethic and put it in the evening. He's an entertainment guy. He doesn't understand news. I respect what he knows about entertainment, but he doesn't know news. And as a consequence of that move, things went down in a bit of a hurry. Now I'm happy to say now, that having failed, his vision of what the evening news should be, they're trying to rebuild it with Scott Pelley. And from what I can see, they're doing pretty well.

  • 11:31:45

    REHMYou have spent more than $500 million of your own money in this $77 million lawsuit against CBS. You lost the case. Was it worth it?

  • 11:32:05

    RATHERYes, it was worth it.

  • 11:32:05

    REHMWhy?

  • 11:32:06

    RATHERBecause my purpose in filing that lawsuit was to find out what happened, what really happened inside CBS News. And I tried to find out. But, you know, reporters don't have the power of subpoena. They don't have the power in discovery of emails and documents. The suit was never about money. To go in to the civil court with this kind of suit you have to set a figure. I said straight out, if we win, it was always odds against if we win, the money will go to some good journalistic enterprise.

  • 11:32:38

    RATHERI wasn't in it for the money. Number two, I said it was a last resort for me. Yes, I'm in it alone by myself, this money out of my pocket. I was warned, I was cautioned beforehand, listen, Dan, you take on a corporation like this, they have bottomless pockets because they're spending shareholder money, you're spending your own money. But what I wanted to do is find out what happened, what really happened.

  • 11:33:04

    RATHERAnd I thought if we can get to a jury trial, that those who are in positions of power would have to reveal. Now, because we had depositions and discovery, we found a lot. Like what? Like the chief lobbyist for Mr. Redstone was telling the president of CBS News, this is what you should do and this is what you should not do. If you had told me even after we'd gone through, the difficult time with the Bush story, if you had told me that the president of CBS News will be taking instructions from the chief corporate lobbyist in Washing about what the news division should be doing and not doing, I'd have trouble believing it. But it turned out to be true.

  • 11:33:54

    REHMDan Rather. His new book is titled, "Rather Outspoken: My Life in the News." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I have in front of me a page from the May 7th issue of Newsweek and the headline under your photograph, talking about your new book is titled, "Dan Rather's White Whale: He's Changed Stations, But His Fight with CBS Will Never Die." Do you feel like Ahab sometimes?

  • 11:34:42

    RATHERNo, I don't at all. Frankly, I hadn't seen that, I didn't see the copy of Newsweek. I don't feel that way at all. Diane, I'm at peace now. I think I'm...

  • 11:34:53

    REHMYou don't sound that way. You sound as though it still sticks in your craw that you could not find the people to back you up on a story you still believe to be true.

  • 11:35:15

    RATHERI don't feel that way. I trust your judgment about how I sound, but I don't feel that way at all. This happened eight years ago. I left CBS News more than six years ago. I think I'm doing the best sustained work of my career now. I can't wait to work every morning. I've always had a passion for covering news and I still have it. I have the freedom now, the liberation of doing what I want to do, when I want to do it, a couple of things to do it.

  • 11:35:48

    RATHERWhatever the perception of Newsweek or how you read my voice, I'm at total peace about it now. And I don't even think about it a whole lot now. I realized to do this book, which I wanted to tell stories about civil rights, Vietnam and other things, that I couldn't do the book without including this in it. So, I said, okay, I'll tell the story from my point of view. I'll tell as I know it to be. Those who are interested will read that part of the book. Those who aren't I hope will skip to the other sections.

  • 11:36:21

    REHMAnd we should say that Dan Rather is now managing editor and anchor of the television news magazine, "Dan Rather Reports" on the cable channel HDNet. He was anchor of the "CBS Evening News" from 1981 until 2005. You are enjoying your time there.

  • 11:36:50

    RATHERI absolutely love it. It's, in many ways, the most satisfying time for me as a journalist. Look, I had great years at CBS News. Yes, I saw fire and I saw rain, but I also saw sunny days and starry nights and up and down. As you know, Diane, that goes with the business.

  • 11:37:09

    REHMYou bet.

  • 11:37:09

    RATHERIt goes with the territory. And I came in the news at a time when there wasn't television news, when there wasn't a template. There was no prospect to making a lot of money or getting famous. If you want to do it, you had to love it. I loved it then and I don't cease loving it.

  • 11:37:29

    REHMDan Rather. And when we come back, we're going to take your calls, your comments and questions to Dan Rather directly on his new book, "Rather Outspoken."

  • 11:40:04

    REHMAnd it's time to open the phones 800-433-8850. First to Devotion, N.C. good morning, John, and tell me where Devotion, North Carolina is.

  • 11:40:21

    JOHNWell, it's about 90 miles due north of Charlotte and it's right on the Mitchell River, the cleanest river on the East Coast.

  • 11:40:33

    REHMOh, good, I'm glad.

  • 11:40:35

    JOHNAnd you -- Diane, I want to tell you I've listened to your show two hours every day and, Mr. Rather, I've always been a huge fan of ours and I know you probably don't remember this, but I ran into you with my son who was about ten years old at the time out of an Austin City Limits taping of a Joe Ely concert.

  • 11:41:04

    RATHERYou know, I remember that concert very well.

  • 11:41:07

    JOHNAnd I stopped you and your wife and I asked you if you wouldn't mind shaking my son's hand because I wanted him to be able to tell all his classmates when he went to school the next day...

  • 11:41:19

    REHMOh, good.

  • 11:41:20

    JOHN...That he had shaken Dan Rather's hand.

  • 11:41:23

    REHMGood. John, tell us your question.

  • 11:41:25

    JOHNWell, my question is -- well, other than respect for you, Mr. Rather, I really -- you know, am really curious about what you think and Lord knows you've been through law suits that I, you know, so I guess that's out the window, but I really would like your opinion on the Florida vote count of the Bush-Gore thing.

  • 11:41:55

    RATHERWell, speaking of things that are in the past and we can't do anything about, first of all, I appreciate your kind words and I appreciate your calling in. That -- we'll never know what the actual vote count was, but what we've learned since 2000 is that's pretty much the way it's going to be. We run as honest elections as we can, but we're a big, diverse country, two ocean country, with more than 325 -- 330 million people.

  • 11:42:31

    RATHERAnd what happened during the Gore-Bush 2000 election was there were election irregularities. Rather than go through a recount -- rather than trying to get to the bottom of it -- the Supreme Court just took charge and said we're going to decide the election. That's what happened. I'm not saying if we'd gotten to the bottom of it and got a full recount that George Bush wouldn't have won anyway.

  • 11:43:00

    RATHERWhat I am saying is it was cut off before we could know. In the 2004 election both in heavily democratic districts and heavily republican districts and states a lot of questions, a lot of irregularities and I can guarantee you that there will be the same thing in 2012. One of the problems is the increasing use of electronic voting machines. These machines can be hacked into. Many of them do not leave a paper trail. But in answer to your question we'll never know the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about the 2000 election. But because of the Supreme Court we've moved on.

  • 11:43:41

    REHMThanks for calling, John. To Great Falls, Va. Hi, there, Debbie, go right ahead.

  • 11:43:49

    DEBBIEHi, Mr. Rather.

  • 11:43:51

    RATHERHi, Debbie.

  • 11:43:52

    DEBBIEI wanted to, sort of, wrap a few things that you said together. First of all, it's my understanding that the secretary of the commanding officer of George Bush substantiated everything that was in the letter that was in question and she was still alive to be interviewed after all the dust settled. And, secondly, it seems to me that you're saying that the Abu Ghraib story probably was a sticking point with certain powerful interests.

  • 11:44:29

    DEBBIEI just want to take all of that and ask you how much you think that corporate invasion of news had to do with our not -- the media not questioning the idea of going into Iraq more thoroughly than they did and how much responsibility you think that had for our fighting a war which looks like, in retrospect, was unnecessary and extremely costly.

  • 11:45:00

    RATHERWell, first of all, thank you for calling in. I think it had a lot to do with it what you just laid out. That -- and I want to pause and say that I do not except myself from this criticism. That all of us in journalism have a great to answer for in the way we've covered and didn't cover the run up to the Iraq war. That here was a case that the -- I want to say propaganda machine because in many ways it was -- the administration at the time -- the Bush Administration -- made it a real effort to influence news coverage of all kinds to move the country to a war footing.

  • 11:45:45

    RATHEROne of their powerful weapons in that effort was that if you ask a tough question, if you were skeptical about something, you worked under the threat you do that and they're going to call you names. They were going to hang a sign around you that you're unpatriotic, that you don't support the troops. And American journalism, in general, there certainly were exceptions, the McClatchy newspapers, for example, but overall in the main we did not do our jobs.

  • 11:46:17

    RATHERAnd one reason we didn't do it -- those of us in journalism -- and keep in mind I'm including myself -- was the fear factor. There was the fear of if you get up and ask a tough question, if you question this administration's story of why we should go to war, you're going to pay a very heavy price for that. Now, if we had the guts we should have had, we would have gone ahead anyway.

  • 11:46:40

    REHMHere's an...

  • 11:46:41

    RATHERBut in too few places we didn't have it.

  • 11:46:42

    REHMHere's an email from Edward Jones following up on that. He says, "I saw live your confrontation with George H. W. Bush over Iran Contra. Do you feel this made you a marked man by the Bushes and led to your later controversy about George W. Bush's military service?"

  • 11:47:10

    RATHERI'd like to think not. He laid out -- I did have a confrontation with then Vice President George H. W. Bush. Possible, yes, but I don't have any empirical evidence otherwise that led to it.

  • 11:47:26

    REHMFrom that time forward -- from that confrontation with George H. W. Bush to what finally happened with the national guard service question around George W. Bush, do you believe your attitude had to change in terms of how you were somehow put into a box of fear?

  • 11:48:04

    RATHERProbably. I'm not much at psychoanalyzing anybody much less myself. But as you laid it out I say to myself I can't really judge that, but that may very well have been a factor. And with the, let's say, George Bush, II, George W. Bush's time, but if so it wasn't that large a factor. The larger factor here is that when the party in power in the White House -- when they set about preparing the nation for war they have working for them so much including American's respect and trust in their president.

  • 11:48:46

    RATHERIt's hard for journalists to run counter to that, but if we were doing our jobs as we should be doing it, and remember again I include myself in this. We're supposed to have the spine. We're supposed to have the grit that says, look, we're part of the system of checks and balances. And no matter what price is to be paid we should be asking the tough questions. We should be skeptical, never cynical, but skeptical. Overall in the main we didn't do that to lead up to the Iraq War.

  • 11:49:15

    REHMAnd think back to Vietnam and the role the press played in getting us finally out of Vietnam.

  • 11:49:27

    RATHERThe press played the role of being honest brokers of information or affecting the reality of Vietnam rather than the fantasy that those in power in Washington wanted the American people to believe about that war.

  • 11:49:40

    REHMAnd here is an another email from Magnus who, and this will, I'm sure, make you a bit uncomfortable. He says, "Mr. Rather's on air apology for the Bush national guard story was a moral failure on his part. Journalists have an obligation to tell the truth and he lied to protect what had become a corrupt infotainment organization, CBS News."

  • 11:50:18

    RATHERHe's entitled to his opinion. I'm not here to argue with him.

  • 11:50:21

    REHMDo you think you should not have read that apology on the air? Would you today, faced with the same directive from on high, do that?

  • 11:50:36

    RATHERCan't go back and play them over.

  • 11:50:37

    REHMNo, of course not.

  • 11:50:38

    RATHERYou can't look back. So I'm not going to deal with a hypothetical. I did what I did at the time because I thought it was the best thing to do for CBS News. But I want to make clear I'm not arguing with this gentleman when he says that was a moral failure on my part. He's entitled to his opinion. Others who have the opinion I'm not here to argue with them. I did what I did. I didn't do it perfectly. It's rare in life when you do anything perfectly. And it's rare when you don't look back and say I might have, could have, should have. But I've never found that very helpful. I try to look forward.

  • 11:51:16

    REHMAll right, to Wichita, Kan. good morning, Cynthia.

  • 11:51:20

    CYNTHIAGood morning, Miss Diane, I do love you so...

  • 11:51:23

    REHMOh.

  • 11:51:23

    CYNTHIA...and your voice sounds so wonderful and I enjoy listening to your show.

  • 11:51:27

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:51:28

    CYNTHIAMy question for Mr. Rather and hello, Mr. Rather.

  • 11:51:32

    RATHERHello.

  • 11:51:33

    CYNTHIAI am so glad that you're honest and straight right -- straight forth about everything and you believe in your convictions. I've watched you since I was 21 years old. I am the niece of a soldier that served in the Vietnam War. He came back not the uncle that left, but I enjoyed all the news watching in front of the TV with my dinner about what was going on in the world with you talking. And all I can say is I'm glad that you're an honest man who stands up with his convictions. And not all of us are perfect. But I want to know out there with all the anchors and reports who do you consider a mini me of yourself and I hope he stays with his convictions.

  • 11:52:18

    RATHERWell, thank you very much and I appreciate your kind words. And please do me a favor of telling your uncle that I and my family appreciate his service to our country...

  • 11:52:27

    REHMIndeed.

  • 11:52:28

    RATHER...During the Vietnam era. I hope there's nobody out there -- no young journalist who's trying to be, quote, "another Dan Rather." They should be themselves. But I do see a lot of young journalists. That's one reason I'm optimistic about the future of journalism. We have our problems. I do think in some ways we're in crisis, a crisis of courage. But I'm optimistic about the future. I'm an optimist by nature and by experience, anyway.

  • 11:52:58

    RATHERBut I don't want to go through a list of names. I will say that of the three major network anchors, Diane Sawyer, Brian Williams and Scott Pelley that these are good people. They're good journalists and they're doing the best they can. They're operating within some of the problems that I described earlier, but I think we're fortunate that all three of these people are experienced journalists. They're excellent broadcasters. They have high standards, high ethics and I just hope each of the three of them stays a long time.

  • 11:53:36

    REHMBut as you have already said, it is the corporate structure that dominates each of the networks. I'm struck by how much each half hour -- and I do watch all three -- each half hour is filled with stories of entertainment rather than stories of news.

  • 11:54:05

    RATHERWell, this is true. And the reason is that entertainment values have virtually overwhelmed news values in the current news climate. Again, there are some exceptions. And this is not something just for journalists to worry about. It's something, I think, every American should be concerned about.

  • 11:54:26

    REHMAbsolutely.

  • 11:54:27

    RATHERI certainly don't want to preach about it, but we understand that a free press, a truly independent, fiercely independent when necessary, press is the red beating heart of freedom and democracy. And it's very hard to do that under the auspices of entertainment values.

  • 11:54:42

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And finally to Hallandale Beach, Fla., good morning, Kim.

  • 11:54:52

    KIMThank you, Diane. Mr. Rather, images are so vivid and so vital and really make an impact. And I wonder how much responsibility do you take or took when images were projected as you were stating a story. And specifically I'll give you an example. In the 1990s, there was a story you were portraying about women forgiving men of abuse and images were flashed of different women presumably doing that. I happened to be one of them, which I was never contacted by you or your researchers. And so it was a very strong image, but it had really nothing to do with this story. So I just wonder if you could comment on that...

  • 11:55:40

    RATHERSure.

  • 11:55:41

    KIM...and I appreciate it.

  • 11:55:42

    RATHERWell, I appreciate you calling in. And since what you say is true, we made a mistake. We shouldn't have done that. And I apologize for whatever difficulty that may have caused you in any way. But your overall point is so important. You now, Adolf Hitler, whom we shouldn't quote very often, he said because he had learned that those who control the images control the race.

  • 11:56:15

    RATHERIn the later part of the 20th Century and here in the first part of the 21st Century, we need to keep some version of that in mind. When the war drums are beating, for example, along the Potomac, whose images are dominating that? And when we talk about things such as abuse of women, I'm sorry that you had that experience. As I said before, nobody can do it perfectly and I'm very sorry we didn't even do it well in your case.

  • 11:56:50

    REHMDan Rather his new book is titled, "Rather Outspoken: MY Life in the News." I'm glad you were here.

  • 11:57:02

    RATHERThank you, Diane. I really appreciate it. I'm among your many admirers.

  • 11:57:07

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:57:08

    RATHERGod speed.

  • 11:57:08

    REHMThank you and thanks for listening all, I'm Diane Rehm.

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