- NEW YORK (Reuters/Hollywood
Reporter) - Former CBS News anchor Dan Rather said Monday that there is
a climate of fear running through newsrooms stronger than he has ever seen
in his more than four-decade career.
- Rather famously tangled with President Nixon and his
aides during the Watergate years while Rather was a hard-charging White
- Addressing the Fordham University School of Law in Manhattan,
occasionally forcing back tears, he said that in the intervening years,
politicians "of every persuasion" had gotten better at applying
pressure on the conglomerates that own the broadcast networks. He called
it a "new journalism order."
- He said this pressure -- along with the "dumbed-down,
tarted-up" coverage, the advent of 24-hour cable competition and the
chase for ratings and demographics -- has taken its toll on the news business.
"All of this creates a bigger atmosphere of fear in newsrooms,"
- Rather was accompanied by HBO Documentary and Family
president Sheila Nevins, both of whom were due to receive lifetime achievement
awards at the News and Documentary Emmy Awards on Monday evening.
- Nevins said that even in the documentary world, there's
a certain kind of intimidation brought to bear these days, particularly
from the religious right.
- "If you made a movie about (evolutionary biologist
Charles) Darwin now, it would be revolutionary," Nevins said. "If
we did a documentary on Darwin, I'd get a thousand hate e-mails."
- Nevin asked Rather if he felt the same type of repressive
forces in the Nixon administration as in the current Bush administration.
- "No, I do not," Rather said. That's not to
say there weren't forces trying to remove him from the White House beat
while reporting on Watergate; but Rather said he felt supported by everyone
above him, from Washington bureau chief Bill Small to then-news president
Dick Salant and CBS chief William S. Paley.
- "There was a connection between the leadership and
the led . . . a sense of, 'we're in this together,"' Rather said.
It's not that the then-leadership of CBS wasn't interested in shareholder
value and profits, Rather said, but they also saw news as a public service.
Rather said he knew very little of the intense pressure to remove him in
the early 1970s because of his bosses' support.
- Nevins took up the cause for Rather, who was emotional
several times during the event.
- "When a man is close to tears discussing his work
and his lip quivers, he deserves bosses who punch back. I feel I would
punch back for Dan," Nevins said.
- Rather praised the coverage of Hurricane Katrina by the
new generation of TV journalists and acknowledged that he would have liked
to have reported from the Gulf Coast. "Covering hurricanes is something
I know something about," he said.
- "It's been one of television news' finest moments,"
Rather said of the Katrina coverage. He likened it to the coverage of President
Kennedy's assassination in 1963.
- "They were willing to speak truth to power,"
Rather said of the coverage.
- Rather sidestepped the question of what should happen
to the evening news in the expected makeover. "Not my call,"
he said. And he said he hadn't been asked, either.
- "I gave it everything I had, I didn't hold anything
back. I did the best newscast we were capable of doing," Rather said.
- Nevins, who almost single-handedly has kept the art of
the independent documentary on television, said the HBO documentaries show
real life and do it with as little damage to the subjects as possible.
She said the producers and directors "respect mostly the people on
the other side of the camera."
- Nevins said she didn't shy away from such R-rated topics
as "G-String Divas" and "Taxicab Confessions" but noted
that sex and passion have been topics of literature since Chaucer's day.
"The most R-rated is a body bag, not a naked body," Nevins said.
- Reuters/Hollywood Reporter
- (c) Reuters 2005. All rights reserved.