Dan Rather’s Real Life Experience And The Newsroom

Last night, while watching The Newsroom, I thought of Dan Rather. The story centered around threats from a network’s owner (played by Jane Fonda) to fire an anchorman for addressing the idiocy of the Tea Party because she has business before Congress. It was quite similar to the manner in which CBS was afraid to take on the Bush family regarding George W. Bush’s draft avoidance and failure to fulfill his obligations to the Air National Guard. (As CBS threw Rather under the bus, the question of whether the controversial memos were legitimate was never settled, but there was plenty of evidence supporting Rather’s story even if the memos were never used). In his recent book, Rather Outspoken: My Life in the News, Dan Rather gave his side of the controversy. He also pointed out how CBS was reluctant to air the the Abu Ghraib story out of political cowardice, foreshadowing their response to the story of George Bush and the National Guard. In retrospect, after we have seen how the right wing noise machine works, it is increasingly clear that Dan Rather was Swift Boated.

After thinking of Dan Rather while watching the episode, I was not surprised to see an article by Rather this morning praising the episode:

“The Newsroom” is important television, the closest we’ve had to “must-see TV” in recent years.

The reason is that it digs deep to reveal the innards of big network television news—the teardrops and laughter, the sunshine and storms that go on behind the scenes and below the surface. And it reveals the danger of big business being in bed with big government, whether the government is led by Republicans or Democrats. This is especially dangerous when it comes to big businesses that own, as a small part of their overall operations, a national-distribution news organization.

In this episode, the most important, most interesting, most revealing scene is where the owner of the corporation (played superbly by Jane Fonda) tells the head of her news division, “I have business in front of this Congress!” She’s complaining about her anchorman and his newscast covering news in ways she knows will displease Congressional leaders whom she needs for business advantage.

Her news division president (played equally superbly by Sam Waterston) answers, in effect “You can’t possibly expect us to tailor the news to your corporate agenda.”

She shoots back, “I have business (she hits the word hard) in front of this Congress.” And she flatly says she’ll fire the anchorman if he doesn’t stop putting on the air what he has been.

This, friends, is drama taken from real life. Yes, this is fiction. But it’s based on some recent history in the news business.

This whole episode is something I wish every American could see and ponder, especially in the context of the two preceding installments. They would then understand how a combination of big business and big government, working for their mutual benefit — not the public interest but rather their own interests — affects the news we see and hear.

The Newsroom is well worth watching and Dan Rather’s book is well worth reading. In addition to the more controversial topics of George W. Bush and Abu Ghraib, reading about Rather’s career provided an interesting look at recent history. Unfortunately it also showed the demise of a once great news organization, but Rather did express some hope that the journalists at CBS might still turn things around.


  1. 1
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