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Interview with Dan Rather
Doug: Welcome to the video blog. I’m Doug Simon of D S Simon Productions. My guest is as you see Dan Rather of HD Net, recent author of the book, Rather Outspoken, which I recently finished. Thanks so much for being with us.
Dan: Thanks for having me.
Doug: Now you’re speaking, you’re the keynote speaker at the Big Apple Awards here in New York, what are some of the key points you are going to talk about in your presentation?
Dan: Well the key point is a sense of public service. Public Relations at its best serves the client of course, but it serves the larger public interest, and this stuff deals with reporters such as myself and journalism which at its best, quality journalism with integrity is in the public interest. Yes it can make money and yes it can serve the stockholders and stockholder value, but at its best it’s in the public interest. So I would say that’s the central point. The other is I take my work seriously, but I try not to take myself seriously, so I hope to weave in some humor that’s telling about the need to listen very carefully to people. Also how CEO’s and other masters of whatever universe they’re in including anchor people can get big headed, and everyone needs to understand that well.
Doug: You quote Bill Moyers in the book with a quote along the lines of “What people don’t want to talk about is news and the rest is publicity”, can PR people actually do a good job by helping their clients change their behaviors to make the behaviors good so you can tell the truth and have it be good PR?
Dan: Absolutely, and that is Public Relations at its best. The quote which was originally isn’t Billy Moyers has his version and I have my version. But, it’s basically news is what’s important for people to know, that somebody somewhere mostly people in power don’t want people to know. That’s news. All the rest is mostly publicity and propaganda.
Doug: Among the most fascinating parts of the book are where you looked back and shared information about sort of what turned out to be the end of your career at CBS involving the Killian documents and the investigation of whether former president George W. Bush had gone AWOL during his service, and during discovery there were documents that actually showed and maybe I think the public would be believing based on what they heard, oh that those documents were certainly fakes. You seem to find out otherwise.
Dan: Well number one the documents have never been proven to be fake. Someone may want to argue when they do, that we didn’t do enough to prove them. But I consider all that kind of a camouflage a veil if you will. We reported the truth, unpleasant truths that a young George Bush number one this is not somebody’s opinion these are facts number one he got in a so called champagne air unit of the Texas National Guard because his father was an important person and had influence. That’s a fact. Number two while he was supposed to be serving as an airman he disappeared for a year. In the military nobody disappears for a year without accountability and he did. That was the gut of our story. That was the spine of our story. Those two things were true. Now people who for their own personal, political reasons or either logical reasons didn’t want these inconvenient truths to be known by the public. So our story was true and that’s the reason that some good people who work with me lost their jobs and I eventually lost my own.
Doug: One of the tough things about the news for people now is I don’t know that people believe news can actually be non-partisan. Can the news be non-partisan?
Dan: Absolutely and I dedicated my career to being an honest broker of information. Everyone has their biases and prejudices. I think my own would surprise some people. But the test of a reporter worthy of the name and an American reporter worthy of the name is how hard he or she tries and how often they succeed to squeeze out their own biases as I say just be an honest transmitter of information to get the truth as close to the truth as humanly possible and to suck it up even if its controversial, even if you take heat tell people.
Doug: Last area of questioning because you talked about the dangers of the corporatization of the news. Now, Mark Cuban owns a business so that may be one type of corporatization of news, Sumner Redstone was in charge of overall CBS News at the time of your situation. Now Sumner Redstone supported Republican causes also had an issue before the government of making sure Viacom could maintain ownerships of those TV stations. If Sumner Redstone backed liberal causes do you think it would have been the same outcome even with the business issue of protecting the ownership of those stations?
Dan: Well we’ll never know I like to think so, and you raised a very interesting point, and I have no major argument with Sumner Redstone. Now what happened with me happened eight years ago , I left CBS news 6 years ago, I’m well past it I’m at peace with it. The differences between Sumner Redstone and Mark Cuban, there are two major differences. One, Mark Cuban sees the news as public trust and he wants to be responsible to that public trust and sees the news as a public service. Sumner Redstone as you made clear, number one he is interested in making money, there’s nothing wrong with making money. But what had been the paradigm if you will before was yes you make money off the airways but you give something back in public service in the public interest and that was your news division. Number two that gutsy reporting, the kind of reporting that is deep digging and investigating, it needs leaders at the very top who don’t back down, don’t back up and back their reporters. Mark Cuban does and Sumner I’m sorry to say didn’t.
Doug: Yea well thank you so much for your time. Fascinating reading and fascinating conversation, an American treasure.
Dan: Thank you very much, I appreciate it
Doug: My pleasure.