15 MAY 2012
By symbolic though unintended coincidence, legendary television reporter Dan Rather arranged to sign his book on the eve of World Press Freedom Day.
"Rather Outspoken" was presented on 2 May to a standing room only audience at New York's Upper West Side Barnes and Noble. A story teller by
profession, he took the first half hour in briefly recounting his impressive career from a small town in Texas to the big time of "CBS News with Dan
Rather." "Humbled" by an overwhelming presence of enthusiastic New Yorkers who had obviously missed his forthright style and credible professional
presentation, he mused about his media career while voicing concern that solid news projects are losing out to flashy entertainment programs. If you
now suggest to your station an extensive investigative report, managers would either assume you had been inhaling some expensive stuff or direct
you to the exit door. A more serious issue, Rather added, is the increasing link between "big government and big business," whereby freedom of the
press is seriously undermined by vested interests on both sides. He briefly, very briefly, mentioned the controversy about his report on former President George W. Bush supposedly avoiding army recruitment and
his abrupt departure from CBS. Yet his more substantive attention was to the role of a free and varied press.
Talent and credibility are obviously basic requirements for a reporter. To achieve stardom, however, two other elements may be needed: someone
who believes in your capacity to make it and events or occasions to project them. Dan Rather got to be known on the Texas scene when he managed to
report on a sweeping hurricane. He was able to locate a radio station in Galveston from where he could accurately project and forecast its movement. As
a Texan, he was asked to cover the visit of President John F. Kennedy when he was assassinated in Houston. His dynamic and sensitive performance
projected him as the main source for CBS throughout those tragic days. When the great Walter Cronkite, the pillar of television news for
generations of Americans, left CBS, Dan Rather was brought in, not to "replace" him as he pointed out ("nobody replaces Walter Cronkite"), but to
take over the assignment. For two decades, at least, Dan Rather was the main anchorman for U.S. TV news. While he sought to "illuminate" the public,
he worked hard to maintain his professional integrity. He did not confine himself to the hallowed bastion on West 57th Street, but remained the
inquisitive solid reporter personally covering risky areas of conflicts from Lebanon to Bosnia and Afghanistan. He was one of a number of U.S.
media stars who set a high standard, admired and imitated by other media around the world.
Dan Rather's valuable contribution to free and varied press was recognized by the United Nations years ago when he was invited by Samir Sanbar,
then head of the Department of Public Information, to represent world media in celebrating the newly-declared World Press Freedom Day, established
by the General Assembly on Mr.
Sanbar's drafted proposal in November 1994, prompted by a regional seminar in Santiago, Chile, which concluded a world series
that started in the newly-independent Windhoek, Namibia. Mr. Rather shared the podium with the President of the General Assembly and the Secretary
General in leading diplomatic delegates, Secretariat staff, accredited correspondents, and civil society non-governmental representatives in a
landmark commemoration. His new book is a renewed confirmation of his unflinching advocacy for a free, unfettered, and creative press.