In a Monday interview on MediaBistro.com’s weekly video series Media Beat, disgraced former CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather shared his concerns over the credibility of internet journalism: “The difficulty with some of the things on the internet...is transparency and accountability about who’s responsible for what’s on.”
TVNewser.com columnist Gail Shister sparked the discussion by asking Rather: “Are you concerned at all that there is the absence of quality control when it comes to so much of the modern platforms?” Rather went on to fret: “...you can put something on the internet that’s really terrible about your neighbor or about a friend or a competitor and it’s almost impossible to find out who the source is. And you can say anything about them. That part of it troubles me.”
Rather of course ended his tenure at CBS after using fraudulent documents to smear President George W. Bush just days before the 2004 presidential election. He showed little concern for accountability and proper sourcing as he used fabricated memos to claim that Bush had gone AWOL while serving in the Texas Air National Guard in the 1970s.
On the September 10, 2004 Evening News, as evidence against the story mounted, he lashed out at his critics: “Today, on the Internet and elsewhere, some people, including many who are partisan political operatives, concentrated not on the key questions of the overall story, but on the documents that were part of the support of the story.” It was internet journalists that held the mainstream media accountable and demanded transparency during the Rather-gate scandal.
Here is a transcript of the Media Beat exchange:
GAIL SHISTER: Is there such a thing as mainstream media anymore? What does that mean to you?
DAN RATHER: You know, I don’t know what it means anymore. If there is such a thing, I don’t what it is. I would love to have someone define it for me, but I don’t know what it is. Look, things change. And we’ve had great acceleration of change in television news and in journalism in general. And no one’s surprised by that change. And definitions change. One can make an argument that what’s on the internet now is mainstream, as opposed to what’s on the evening newscast.
SHISTER: But are you concerned at all that there is the absence of quality control when it comes to so much of the modern platforms? The so-called notion of citizen journalists, does that concern you in any way?
RATHER: Well, it does concern me, but overall, in the main, I think the development of what’s called citizen journalism is good, including that on the internet. The difficulty with some of the things on the internet, and I emphasize only some, some of the things, is transparency and accountability about who’s responsible for what’s on. As you know, you can put something on the internet that’s really terrible about your neighbor or about a friend or a competitor and it’s almost impossible to find out who the source is. And you can say anything about them. That part of it troubles me.
But look, there’s no question that we’ve moved into the internet age. And if it isn’t already, what’s on the internet is going to become the dominant source of news for most people. It’s not going to completely replace television, radio, and print, but it’s becoming the dominant source of news. Whether you like it or not, that’s a fact. So naturally we have some concerns about – I stated one of them – about accountability. But overall, in the main, I think it’s a force for good. I think it’ll continue to be – to grow. I think we’re no longer right on the first edge of it, but we’re not very far into what the internet is to become.