(Editor's note: this column was syndicated on Friday.)
It’s axiomatic that people who’ve disgraced themselves are the last to realize it, or maybe the first to pretend they don’t know. Take longtime CBS anchorman Dan Rather, who shredded his own reputation by smearing President Bush’s military service with phony documents.
He’s still at it, still in shameless self-denial, raging against the world, still pontificating about that which he has no standing to speak about: Journalism ethics. On June 7, he mounted a soapbox at a far-left event in Minneapolis called the "National Conference for Media Reform," perhaps the last and perhaps the best forum interested in his opinion.
In front of this fervent group of leftists, Rather tried to put on Superman’s cape and pledge to push back against the evil forces "that imperil journalism…and impair democracy itself." In Rather’s vision, blatantly biased reporting is not only what passes for "journalism," it is the lifeblood of democracy. Dismiss Dan Rather for a lack of professionalism, and suddenly, you’re part of the corporate media vast right-wing conspiracy against Jeffersonian ideals.
Rather’s address echoed the usual fire-and-brimstone radical of these proceedings, PBS omnipresence Bill Moyers. What utter hypocrisy. What utter chutzpah it takes to rain rhetorical fire on the "corporate media" that signed their fat paychecks. Rather sat at the top of the "corporate media" mountain for decades. In between PBS gigs, Moyers shoveled his commentary nuggets at both CBS and NBC. Both became fabulously wealthy, courtesy of that awful "corporate media."
Rather’s new hero in his speech was former Bush press spokesman Scott McClellan. No matter how evil McClellan was when he was in charge of "stonewalling" gallant White House correspondents, Rather felt he joined the forces of goodness and light and should be celebrated for underscoring that every media leftist knew: they had not given enough air time and enough glory to the left-wing forces who suggested that Saddam Hussein should have been left alone.
I’ll never understand how Rather managed to give this speech with a straight face. Corporate media outlets made a decision – "consciously or unconsciously, but unquestionably in a climate of fear" – to swallow the Big Bad Saddam theory that Iraq’s potential WMDs could not be tolerated in a post 9-11 world. To hear Rather talk, you would think he wasn’t the lead anchorman on one of the top media outlets, responsible for those very broadcasts during this sorry period of allegedly weak-kneed major media cowardice.
Naturally, Rather’s address in Minnesota made no attempt to plumb the historical record of where Dan Rather himself was in the "rush to war" period. Many people can still remember his trip to Baghdad to interview Big Bad Saddam. And remember it was a disgrace. Rather, the man who always suggests he’s such a tough questioner, did little more than bat his big eyes at the Iraqi dictator and asked him questions like whether they would ever see each other again, or whether Saddam could say a few words in English for the folks at home.
So much for the corporate media being a tool of the neocon war machine.
In fact, Rather suggested that the media asked tough questions, but their crime was to publicize the Bush administration’s official – and dishonest, in his view -- answers, and then move on to other news. Apparently, it was the media’s job to spend the rest of the newscast pointing out just how malignantly wrong the White House was, to underline that the government (at least in Republican hands) is a throne of lies.
If that is true, then wasn’t Rather condemning himself?
Rather lamented that when "reputable people" have questioned the Bush line, "the press has treated them like voices in the wilderness. These views, though they might be given air time, become lone dots -- dots that journalists don't dare connect, even if the connections are obvious, even if people on the Internet and in the independent press are making these very same connections. The mainstream press doesn't connect these dots because someone might then accuse them of editorializing, or of being the, quote, ‘liberal media.’"
What? Critics of the Bush line weren’t "voices in the wilderness." They were regular and honored guests. Take ABC. That network not only aired sappy soundbites with Saddam, but sympathetic interviews with Saddam spokesman Tariq Aziz, with Saddam-funded "human shields" from America, and with "diverse" protesters in the streets with Ramsey Clark, Saddam’s defense lawyer. UN experts like Hans Blix, a man vocally against any military intervention, were treated like gurus.
The major media disrespected the anti-war, anti-Bush side? This is clearly the loopiest passage in the whole speech – if you don’t count the entire vibe of document-faking Dan Rather posing as a guardian of journalism.
Dan Rather, do us all a favor. For once and for all, retire.