Dan Rather Reflects on Career: a 'Very Lucky’ Reporter Who Still Bears ‘Scars’
Drawing from his experiences with everything from 1950s radio to a 21st century news production company, veteran journalist Dan Rather recently shared tales from his lengthy and illustrious career in the LBJ Presidential Library auditorium.
“This was billed to you as a lecture, and I'm not going to say there was fraud involved,” Rather said. “Among other things I am not a lecturer; I am a story hunter, a story breaker and a storyteller, so I hope you will take my remarks in that spirit.”
He briefly addressed the current political landscape, citing the “withering attack” of a “truly independent press” among the issues facing journalism and the country today.
”The damage being done is not only to our reputation as journalists, but much more importantly it is a direct threat to the sustainability of our republic,” Rather said. “I wish I could say I had some great wisdom to lay on you about where we are in the world at the moment, how to cope with the geopolitical challenges we have, to say nothing of the perilous period we are going through as a country.”
The current relationship between the White House and the media is unlike anything America has seen in the past, Rather said.
“I do think that in present circumstances we've moved into a whole new era about what a president says, what's ‘normal’ for a president to say, what’s acceptable for a president to say,” Rather said.
Rather would know. He’s covered his fair share of presidential and political speech throughout his distinguished career. It all began in local radio before he joined CBS in 1961 as a reporter. He is now founder and CEO of the independent production company News and Guts.
“What you have here, folks is a reporter who got lucky, very lucky,” Rather said. “As one who dreamed since he was a young boy of being a reporter, and has lived to become one, and will remain one with undreamed opportunities and rewards far beyond anything I deserve, that I am much aware that I stand here with scars and still-opened wounds, many of those wounds self-inflicted.”
His controversial report on George W. Bush’s Texas Air National Guard service in 2004 was highly publicized and led to his notorious resignation as anchor of CBS Evening News.
“From a professional lifetime of being on the line and being in the journalistic trenches, I've had my successes but I've also had my failures and made my mistakes -- have I ever,” Rather said. “Please know that I stand before you with humility, for I do know I have a lot to be humbled about.”
Rather was invited to speak as part of the annual Liz Carpenter lecture series, which is hosted by the Plan II Honors program. Carpenter served as press secretary for Lady Bird Johnson, a role which brought her in close proximity to then-CBS White House correspondent Rather, and the two began what would ultimately be a 40-year friendship.
“It is an honor to be here with something in memory of my friend Liz Carpenter, who was so wonderful to me when I first came to Washington,” Rather said.
Ultimately, Rather lauded the fortitude of the press in combating general public mistrust and declining ratings.
“What heartens me at the moment, is that given the unprecedented challenges of today, reporters and the best of our journalistic institutions are rising and refusing to bend, much less break,” Rather said. ”Imagine where we’d be in this moment in history without a free press. A free, fiercely independent press is the red beating heart of democracy and freedom.”
Photographs © Matt Valentine 2017.
Freshman Journalism Major