Monday, March 13, 2006

Rather can’t take the heat

This up from Captain’s Quarters, a link to the Courier Post’s Jim Walsh who attended a speech by Dan “Fake But Accurate” Rather. Have a look:

Here's the scene: Former CBS anchorman Dan Rather is in Cherry Hill, giving a speech about the need for journalists to do better.

"What's gone out of fashion is the tough question and the follow-up," he tells an admiring audience of about 600 people at Cherry Hill's Star Forum.

So how can I, the guy covering Rather's remarks, just sit there?

When he finishes, I hurry to a floor mike to ask Rather about an issue that will be part of my story.

"Mr. Rather," I say. "Great suggestions. But you left the anchor desk last year after your report questioning President Bush's military service was discredited. Key memos could not be authenticated. Do you think the failure to ask questions then affects your credibility now?"

Rather responds with civility -- if not clarity. He notes, in part, that an independent review "couldn't determine whether the documents were authentic or not."

Eager to please, I follow up: "The Courier-Post won't run something if we're not sure it's authentic. Are you saying it's OK . . ."

But my microphone goes dead -- and the audience stirs to life.

Some people jeer. Others glare and scowl (I can now distinguish between the two). This continues outside as I call in my story.

Gee, Rather's speech never mentioned this. [

Got that? Dan Rather just gave a speech about tough questions and follow ups when the answer’s a non-answer and, when questioned by a supposedly fellow journalist on a matter he’s a bit uncomfy with, his handlers take care of the problem by simply cutting the mike off. Can’t have all that free speech and pointed questioning running around. After all this is Dan Rather, not the President. Sheesh!

Come to think of it, picture that. The President opens the floor up for questions after his press briefing remarks and someone tosses him a question about the “quagmire” in Iraq. The Prez restates his initial remarks and goes to call on someone else. The original questioner, realizing the President didn’t answer his question, begins to clarify the question and sharpen the edges so he can get a real response. Less than 20 words into his follow-up - in the middle of the question - the President’s staff shuts down the microphone.

Care to take a guess at the likely response? You already know what it is: the outrage would peel the paint in the room and every journalist of every stripe would be screaming his lungs out that the press was being trampled upon, free speech was being denied, and that the people had a right to know what the answer to the unfinished question was. They’d be correct to do all that, too, but when it’s them getting the heat applied, they suddenly don’t give a crap about your right to know.

Nicely done, Dan. You’ve proven my points tonite.