Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Defending Dan Rather

Dan Rather is catching a lot of flak (especially from CBS CEO Les Moonves) for some "sexist" comments he made to Joe Scarborough about the direction that the CBS Evening News has taken since he departed the anchor seat. But I am here to say that what Rather has said is indeed right on the money.

I want to make clear that I have nothing against Katie Couric at all. She’s a very nice person, and I have a lot of friends at CBS News." However, it was clear at the time and I think it has become even clearer that the mistake was to try to bring the Today ethos to the evening news and to dumb it down, tart it up, in hopes of attracting a younger audience.

He wasn't being sexist... in the context in which he used the term "tart it up", it seems obvious to me that he is complaining that the new direction of the CBS Evening News is one that values style over substance to try to appeal to a younger demographic. He wasn't calling Couric a tart or demeaning her gender, but instead saying that the focus on softer news and de-emphasis on investigative and harder hitting pieces on the show.

I mean, the comments came just days after the spectacle of that was the Paris Hilton imprisonment, and as a group of people who survived the bombardment coverage of that momentous event, we know that superficiality trumps hard, depressing and ongoing news. As the interview continued, Rather lamented that "when you put the war on the inside pages and Paris Hilton and other celebrities on front pages, it tells you that we have got a lot to answer for in journalism." That is the heart of his argument.

Now I write about the vagaries of celebrity life and pop culture, and I am the first one to admit that what I do is not hard news. In fact, this blog is the very embodiment of soft news. But when I choose to watch a news program, I want to be informed about important issues. I want information about events that will affect my life. And when I want to know about a celebrity, I can always tune into Entertainment Tonight... or Showbiz Tonight... or Access Hollywood... or The Insider... or E!/Star. I really don't need the evening news to fill that role as well.

By saying that Rather is sexist, Moonves is really trying to avoid the real issue... that his network, like the rest, aren't doing their job as journalists and agents for the public good, because that was the whole point of Dan Rather's diatribe.

Edit: 6 years ago on PBS's NewsHour, Rather said the following: "It's the fear that if we don't do it, whatever 'it' is -- tart it up, dumb it down, go more entertainment, go more for what's interesting as opposed to what's important -- our competitors will, and they will eventually drive us out of business." To me, that confirms my own interpretation of the above statements.


Paul Levinson said...

Excellent post - I agree with you completely!

Mr. Fabulous said...

I concur with you and Dan. Which is not to say that Dan is sometimes batshit crazy, but not in this case.

Plus, that's why I like him. Same reason I liked Nixon.

Semaj said...

Yep, great post. There's nothing I found sexist about that statement. He probably should have used "MTV-ing it up" so people can't use his statement as fuel.

I'm into the soft news too, but it amazes me how much money and press people went into the Paris Hilton thing. If we used the same resources the press used in the Hilton-gate on the 'War on Terror', it would be over.

MC said...

Paul: Thank you so much :)

Mr. Fab: You've done the rare thing... you've actually lost me in a comparison.

Semaj: I don't think Rather or MTV are hip enough now to make that analogy work.

I just think the beats of news reporter and entertainment reporters should rarely be the same thing.

SamuraiFrog said...

Dan Rather is completely right. And unfortunately, this is a major aspect of American life right now: focusing on the words used and not what they actually meant. Thanks for pointing this out.

MC said...

And now I hear Bill O'Reilly is getting all bent out of shape because CNN and MSNBC are reporting about the war too much(20%) vs. FoxNews(6%).

That's just messed up.