Saturday, April 29, 2017

Still Fighting The Good Fight For All Of Us

To be alive in the 1960s and 1970s was, among many other things, to bear witness to the importance of freedom of the press.  Not as a slogan.  Not even as words in the Bill of Rights.  But as a living, breathing reality, one that allowed the American news media to justifiably claim the title of the Fourth Estate, a branch of government that served as perhaps the most effective check on the other three.  Whether it was dissecting an overseas war that destroyed the national consensus on the use of American power, or revealing to the world the power of protesters to change the course of an entire nation, or exposing the corruption of an Administration too busy serving itself to remember how to serve the American people, the press was there.

And Dan Rather of CBS was foremost among them.  So much so, in fact, that Richard Nixon, the head of the aforementioned Administration, regarded him as a personal enemy, and not just as a man who was trying to get answers to questions that troubled a good many people.  So much so, in fact, that when Rather later took over the anchor duties for the CBS News from Walter Cronkite (himself no shrinking violet in facing down the truth and those who would hide it), the VRWC made a point of throwing every resource at its disposal into the effort to destroy him.

Personally, I think that Rather cracked a little under the strain of that effort.  Any human being would be likely to do so, at least to some extent.  Some of the more bizarre episodes from his anchor days, such as his interview with then-Vice President Bush, reflect that strain.  That's not to say that he doesn't bear responsibility for those moments.  He does.  That is no less true of the controversy that ultimately drove him from the anchor desk:  his reliance on false documents in telling a story about the National Guard service of George W. Bush.  If anything, his stature as a journalist at that point required him to accept responsibility and even discipline for those failures. But that doesn't negate the fact that he was a target, one that was pounded relentless until the wingers got their proverbial pound of flesh.

But Rather's failures should not be allowed to obscure who he basically is:  a man with a passionate love for his country and an equally passionate love for telling it the truth.  We've never needed him more than now, and it's not surprising that, in these days of darkness, he is being re-discovered by a generation that grew up on journalism as a series of corporate press releases.

Go get 'em, Dan.  And when the pressure builds up, just remember that a new generation is behind you.

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