Dan Rather advises optimism as change rolls through Washington and the media
With the country adjusting to the new realities in Washington, Dan Rather gave attendees at the HX360 Executive Engagement Forum a perspective on the country’s future based on his years of reporting. His recommendation: Be optimistic.
“We Americans have a lot of faults, but being afraid is not one of them,” he said. “Whatever happens with the Trump administration, we’ll get through this. But depending on your political orientation, it will be a long dream or a long nightmare.”
Rather drew on his experiences as one of America’s most prominent American journalists. He rose to national attention as a TV reporter covering the Kennedy assassination in 1963, was famous for reporting directly from the war in Vietnam and became a familiar presence as the anchor of the CBS Evening News from 1981 to 2005.
As he answered questions from HIMSS CEO Steve Lieber in a fireside chat, Rather engaged the audience with an unassuming manner, saying, “He that lives by the crystal ball learns to eat broken glass. And I’ve eaten my share of broken glass.”
But he was willing to speculate, to an extent, on the state of national affairs. “A new president usually gets tested by one or more foreign powers, and in trying to look ahead, you might say we’ve already seen some. Russian, Iran and North Korea have already made probes,” Rather said. “What his response will be will be a critical time.”
In noting the level of chaos in Washington, Rather pointed out that “one of the president’s principal advisors said in a quote -- and this quote was verified -- said that he was an admirer of Lenin and what the country needed was what Lenin brought.” Rather said he concludes this means the administration believes the country needs shaking up, and even the appearance of confusion is to their advantage.
Lieber asked Rather if he believes the relationship between media and politicians has created some of the current climate.
Rather said that as large conglomerates bought media companies, the “sense of news as public service has virtually disappeared.” Entertainment is a more profitable business model, and that has started to influence news decisions.
“If you want to know what’s going on in Afghanistan, you need to go there,” he explained, “but it’s much easier to put four people in a room who end up shouting about Afghanistan ― and, by the way, none of them have ever been to Afghanistan.”
Rather’s optimism is rooted in his belief that the country’s system of checks and balances will hold, and he believes he is seeing a resurgence of investigative journalism since the start of the new administration.
“The whole system of government is intended for the press to be adversarial,” he said. “What we hear is the president wants the press to stop being a watchdog. What does a watchdog do? It warns of things that are suspicious. No one wants an attack dog or a lap dog. The press’s role is a watchdog.”
This article is part of our ongoing coverage of HIMSS17. Visit Destination HIMSS17 for previews, reporting live from the show floor and after the conference.