Irony Alert: Dan Rather Loves HBO's 'The Newsroom,' Says It's About the Battle for 'the Soul of News Itself'

Former CBS news anchor Dan Rather, who resigned in disgrace from the network in 2005, loves HBO's liberal show The Newsroom and told CNN's Piers Morgan on Thursday that it is ultimately about "the battle for...the soul of news itself."

"The Newsroom, which is on HBO, is terrific," gushed Rather. "[I]t's a story of the battle for the soul of a big-time big network anchorman, the soul of his newscast, and on a broader scale, the soul of news itself."

Speaking of "the soul of news itself," Rather resigned from CBS ultimately because it was discovered that documents at the heart of his critical report on President Bush – less than two months before the 2004 election – were forgeries.

Rather has previously made his love for The Newsroom obvious, lauding it as a "classic" and telling Gawker that he "especially liked the emphasis on the necessity of having sources and doing real reporting".

"[I]f they keep up the quality, this is going to be a classic," he raved to CNN's Piers Morgan.

A brief transcript of the segment, which aired on July 13 on Piers Morgan Tonight at 9:26 p.m. EDT, is as follows:

[9:26]

PIERS MORGAN: Let's move on to the Newsroom, Dan, because you get a name check at the top there from Will McAvoy, this TV anchorman who everyone's now having a view about. Many people criticizing it, other people loving it, you, I think, are in the "loving it" camp. What do you make of the series so far?

DAN RATHER: Well, absolutely. The Newsroom, which is on HBO, is terrific. For a lot of reasons. For those who haven't watched it, it's a story of the battle for the soul of a big-time big network anchorman, the soul of his newscast, and on a broader scale, the soul of news itself.

It is marvelously well-acted. I think what happened in the reviews – the very first segment, first episode, there's now been three episodes, including the one this last Sunday, got off to a somewhat preachy start. I didn't find it that way but I can fully understand why some people did.

But this is so well-acted, and, Piers, you know how hard it is to get the tone just right when you're doing a fiction piece about reality. And I've been there. I know what a newsroom is like. And they have it dead in the bull's eye, dead on the money.

It's the closest thing to West Wing, which was another Sorkin production, that we've had on network television. If they can keep up the quality, I'm not sure they can, but if they keep up the quality, this is going to be a classic. And let me say, Piers, if you will, that I don't know Mr. Sorkin. I don't know anybody on the program. I've never talked to them. I have no dog in this fight. Except it is important that people understand what big time television is like. What it's really like. As opposed to a lot of people would have you think it's like.

MORGAN: There's a great moment where the head of the news division, a character played by Sam Waterston, says, "We're going to try doing the news. I don't want content to drive ratings and demographics." When you heard that, did you find yourself nodding vigorously in agreement? And how realistic is that premise for a modern cable news network, do you think?

RATHER: Well, this is what they've done so wonderfully. This is what I call the struggle for the soul of news. It's not realistic in today's big-time network television to say, look, we're going to concentrate on news that matters. News that's really important. There is a total emphasis on ratings, demographics, profits, stockholder value, and the big-time salaries of the big corporate moguls.

Now this is a variance with the sense we had in American news for a long time, including television news. It said, look, we're in business to make money. But we're going to give some time to public service in the public interest, not in our own profit-making interest. And that's all gone by the wayside now. And that's what they're trying to underscore in this program, The Newsroom. And I think it's very important for every citizen to understand that.

I don't know whether you saw this last Sunday night's episode.

MORGAN: Yeah.

RATHER: Episode three. And there they took us into the boardroom. And these are the kind of conversations that go on in boardrooms. In which the head of the corporation, played wonderfully by Jane Fonda just says, look, I have business before people in Congress. This is not a direct quote. But almost direct. I can't afford – I don't want to stand for running things in the newscast that the people that I have business to do with before Congress don't like. That's the reality of a lot of big conglomerate corporate news operations today, I'm sorry to say.

MORGAN: Yeah, I think there's lots of complexities I think, to the news business. And I think that -- what I like about it, I love the passion of this show. I love the heartbeat of it. I love the premise that news matters. And I like the way that the anchorman, Will McAvoy, goes through this kind of huge sea change in his own view, backed by a very good producer and a good team, and says, you know what, we're just going to go for this. There's something very invigorating about watching it.
 

Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro is a News Analyst at the Media Research Center