- Terra Molengraff/Daily
By Steve Zoski, Daily News Editor
Published May 21, 2012
Dan Rather, who has interviewed every president since Dwight D. Eisenhower was in office, stopped by Ann Arbor Monday evening to answer questions at the Michigan Theater.
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Last night Rather, who was a CBS news anchor from 1981 to 2005 and was the first broadcast journalist to break news of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, gave a speech and signed books, including his new book “Rather Outspoken: My Life in the News.” The event was sponsored by the Ann Arbor District Library and Michigan Radio.
Rather thanked the AADL for hosting the event and said that books and libraries have influenced who he has become.
“The summer before my sixth birthday, I met a woman who I called at the time ‘the lady in the park,’ ” Rather said. “It turns out she was a social worker ... She brought books and she would read to us, and she noticed my interest in books and she … introduced me to the library, which was really an important part of my beginning of my lifetime of reading.”
Rather then attributed his long-lived career to luck.
“What you’re looking at folks, and please don’t have any delusions about it, is a reporter who got lucky,” Rather said. “I have been lucky to be on some of the biggest stories of our time.”
Rather said his new book offers behind-the-scenes information he wasn’t able to report.
“There are lot of things that happen that don’t go into your report on television,” he said. “What I wanted to do with the book (was) put stories in the book that are the kind of stories that I tell my family and friends around the fireplace … who say, ‘Dan, what really happened with the Kennedy assassination?’ Or, ‘What was it really like to cover Vietnam?’ Or, ‘What was it really like to interview Saddam Hussein?’ ”
Rather explained that about a fourth of the book also discusses the events that led up to his 2006 departure from CBS after working various positions for 44 years.
“Yes, in the book, there is also the unpleasant time of when I was forced to leave CBS News after reporting first Abu Ghraib, a story we broke on a worldwide basis, and following that President George (W.) Bush’s service — or lack of service — in the National Guard,” he said. “I realized that if I didn’t put those important times in the book, someone would say I ‘ducked and dodged.’ ”
Rather explained that he has moved on to his current job at HDNet, and is content there.
“I think it’s the best-sustained work I’ve ever done in my career ... I never lost my passion for news,” he said. “So what happened with the Bush story and Abu Ghraib and others is well behind me now.”
Rather said understanding what caused the end of his work with CBS can help others understand journalism.
“At least to this degree, it may be interesting because it tells you some of what happens in big news organizations, what really happens behind the scenes, as opposed to what you may think happens,” he said.
Rather also said he thinks many people have forgotten how good journalism works.
“Reporters, when they are at their best, tell tough truths,” Rather said.
Rather added that reporting of the civil rights movement in the 1960s is a good example of proper journalism.
“I never imagined — I didn’t know anybody who could imagine — mayors, sheriffs, county commissioners would turn high pressure hoses and attack dogs on children who were taking part in peaceful protests,” Rather said. “And when those images were brought in the living room, there was repulsion – not everybody in the country – but there was a national consensus of repulsion.”
Rather said that people forget that journalists often must take flak when reporting controversial truths.
“It’s easy to forget at the time we were doing that coverage, CBS was called, ‘Communist Broadcasting Company,’ ... the camera crews and others took important photographs that went in the living room and resulted in a national consensus of outrage,” Rather said. “We tend to forget that, at that time, that coverage was controversial. CBS took a lot of heat … (and) now it’s an accepted part of a national conscience.”
Rather explained that good journalism is often contentious at the time it is reported, but is also necessary.
“You learned in seventh grade civics class … that a free press, an independent, truly independent, fiercely independent press, is the red, beating heart of freedom and democracy,” Rather said.
Rather added that currently, journalism in the U.S. is at risk of staying completely legitimate due to large companies with news divisions. He also hinted at big businesses cutting deals in Washington.
“Whether that government is being led at any given time by Republicans or Democrats, the huge international corporations now control more than 80 percent of our true national distribution of news in this country,” Rather said.