Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Dan Rather - an exception??

Much of the discussion this week has focused on Dan Rather's long, tortured farewell. The MSM/DNC has tried to spin the Rathergate affair as some sort of clerical error. At the same time Rather tries to justify his sorry career by making the Rathergate affair into some kind of exception:
"No rhinoceros has a hide so thick that some well-placed, hard-thrown, pointed spear can't get under it," Rather told the Daily News.

"As a reporter, I risked more than some people do. ... Nobody's perfect, I'm not as a person, as a reporter. I don't have any apologies for that," he said.

"For better or worse, I'm a big-game hunter. And I'll continue to hunt big game."

He says he knows he'll still be the target for critics because he's not backing down from chasing important, controversial stories - something he has never done since he was a cub reporter in Houston.

"You can look at me; after 43 years, I've got a lot of scars," Rather said. "They're all from the front. I didn't get it in the back because I didn't run. And now would not be a time to start."

It kind of makes you want to erect a statue in his honor. Or at the very least carve his image into Mount Rushmore. Without rehashing his whole career, all one needs to do to dispel this image is read about his actions in the wake of the JFK shooting in 1963:
It was a different lie--one delivered on national news, and at the expense of children--that caused Rather trouble at the time. As reporters from around the world descended on the Texas city, Rather went on the air with a local Methodist minister who made a stunning claim: Children at Dallas's University Park Elementary School had cheered when told of the president's death.

The tale
was perfect for the moment, reinforcing the notion among distant media elites that Dallas was a reactionary "City of Hate." It slyly played to a local audience, too: The school named was in upper-income University Park, one of two adjacent municipal enclaves that shared a school district and a reputation for fiercely protected, lily-white privilege. Finally, for the ambitious Rather--a native Texan and then a Dallas resident--the account represented the very sort of revealing, local dirt that the throngs of out-of-town competitors would have to work far harder to get.

Except that it wasn't true, and Rather knew it, Barker says.

Approached earlier by the same minister with what was a second-hand account, Barker himself had run the story by the school's principal and some teachers, all of whom denied it outright. Because of the shooting, which took place at 12:30 p.m., the principal had decided to close the school early, though without telling the students why. The children at the school--including three of Barker's own--were merely happy to be going home early, he was told. There couldn't have been any spontaneous cheering at the news of Kennedy's murder, because no such news had been announced.

Undaunted, the dogged minister--"a very, very strong liberal and a very, very strong Kennedy supporter," Barker says--moved on to Rather.

"Rather came to me, and I said, 'My kids are in school there, and I checked it out, and there's not a darn thing to it,'" says Barker. "He said, 'Well, great--I'll just forget it.' But instead of forgetting it, he went out and did this gut job on Dallas and its conservatism," with the preacher's story at the center of his report.

There is much more to the story, including Rather's attempts to sidestep the customary editing session so that Rather could get the story on the air without the knowledge of his superiors or the local affiliate (which knew that the story was false). Hat tip to and Accidental Harpist.

I wonder if tonight's CBS documentary on Rather's career will mention this lie or even interview Barker. This episode, in which Dan Rather targeted children for the sake of advancing his career, puts the lie to all of his self-inflating hero talk. What Michael Jackson is accused of doing today, Dan Rather did, though less literally, in 1963.

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