Friday, September 28, 2012

Rather outspoken (with help)

Let’s pause for a moment.
We have been struggling to understand the actions of newspaper owners who fire their youngest, most tech-savvy employees while maintaining their costly distribution networks and their expensive presses.
Let’s put that fruitless quest on hold.
Let’s think instead about the aging faces of another declining news medium: network television news – specifically, one of the old lions of U.S. television, a tribe on the verge of extinction.
Dan Rather is speaking to us again.
A couple of weeks ago we left Rather, the formerly famous face of CBS News, in the fairly gentle hands of his predecessor Walter Cronkite.
Now we can assess Rather in his own words, or perhaps in the words of his literary collaborators.
The title page of Rather Outspoken: My Life in the News names the author as Dan Rather with Digby Diehl. The publisher describes Diehl as “one of the most trusted and successful literary collaborators in America.”
Rather takes a step farther in his acknowledgments, crediting Digby and Kay Diehl. “This man-and-wife team were indispensable in helping me get this book down on paper and ready for publishing.”
There’s nothing wrong with collaboration on a book. But perhaps these writers could have involved a copy editor in the process.
The students in my Editing Print and Online Media class spotted three typos in one nine-line passage.
And the usual practice when borrowing a vivid phrase is to credit the author. Recalling meeting the woman who became his wife, Rather says, “She also had a figure that would make a bishop kick out a stained-glass window.” Raymond Chandler wrote that first, I think.
Rather opens the book on a bitter note, reporting his feelings in 2006 after being squeezed out of CBS News, where he had spent his career reporting and anchoring.
“But hey, I said to myself, this is the big time; you’ve been privileged to play the game at the top for a long while. These are the major leagues: Envy, cowardice and betrayal are part of life. Stuff happens, and people will always surprise you; take it for what you can learn from it and take it like a man, like a pro.”
CBS and Rather parted ways very publicly “because I reported a true story,” the newsman asserts. That was “President George W. Bush’s dereliction of duty during Vietnam.”
The story may have been true, but Rather’s rush to get it on the air and the network’s refusal to deal calmly and rationally with criticisms after the broadcast overwhelmed the truth of the report.
Rather blames the corporate owners of CBS for caving in to pressure from the U.S. government and right-wing propagandists.
In our conspiracy-obsessed era, that argument just might fly.
Now 80, Rather professes himself happy and busy reporting for Dan Rather Reports on
Coming soon: the memoirs of a Canadian television news icon: The Kind of Life It’s Been by Lloyd Robertson of CTV News.