Dan Rather Apologizes for 'Watermelons' Comment

HDNet's Dan Rather, in a piece for the Huffington Post, apologized for his use of the word "watermelons" during a segment about Barack Obama's ability to pass health care, that was aired on the March 8 Chris Matthews Show. In his explanation Rather offers his Texas background as an excuse saying, "I used the analogy of selling watermelons by the side of the road. It's an expression that stretches to my boyhood roots in Southeast Texas" but then goes on to plead "I'm sorry people took offense."

The following is the most relevant portion of the statement, from the former CBS Evening News anchor, as it appears in The Huffington Post:

I was talking about Obama and health care and I used the analogy of selling watermelons by the side of the road. It's an expression that stretches to my boyhood roots in Southeast Texas, when country highways were lined with stands manned by sellers of all races. Now of course watermelons have become a stereotype for African Americans and so my analogy entered a charged environment. I'm sorry people took offense.

But anyone who knows me personally or knows my professional career would know that race was not on my mind. Reporting on the injustices of race was part of the reason I became a reporter. I grew up in segregated Texas on the same side of the tracks as the African American community. At the time, enlightened people called them Negros. Many people called them much worse. When I covered the Civil Rights movement, I saw sheer hatred in ways that still haunt and shock me. For doing my small part in reporting on the South in the 1960s, I was called a traitor to my roots and other names not fit for print. I was threatened with death by people who would have welcomed me to their church on Sunday on account of my white skin if they didn't know what I was there to do. I do not take this issue lightly.

I can understand why someone who just happened upon my comments could take offense or want clarification. But what has caused this comment to "go viral" is the trumpeting of an online and cable echo chamber that claims the banner of news but trades in gossip, gotcha, and innuendo. Furthermore, even for those who brook no prejudice, when everything is condensed to 140 characters or a small YouTube clip, many people who got this "news" did so without any context, just a headline that popped up on their phone or inbox.

For the full piece visit The Huffington Post.

Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center.