Veteran CBS News Anchor Dan Rather speaks out on BBC Newsnight tonight
veteran CBS News anchor and reporter Dan Rather has for the first
time attacked the climate of patriotism in the United States, saying
it's stopping journalists asking tough questions. In an exclusive
interview with BBC TWO's Newsnight tonight (Thursday 16 May), he
admits he has held back from taking the Bush administration to task
over the so-called war on terror.
says: "It is an obscene comparison - you know I am not sure
I like it - but you know there was a time in South Africa that people
would put flaming tyres around people's necks if they dissented.
And in some ways the fear is that you will be necklaced here, you
will have a flaming tyre of lack of patriotism put around your neck.
Now it is that fear that keeps journalists from asking the toughest
of the tough questions, and to continue to bore in on the tough
questions so often. And again, I am humbled to say, I do not except
myself from this criticism."
admits self-censorship: "What
we are talking about here - whether one wants to recognise it or
not, or call it by its proper name or not - is a form of self-censorship.
It starts with a feeling of patriotism within oneself. It carries
through with a certain knowledge that the country as a whole - and
for all the right reasons - felt and continues to feel this surge
of patriotism within themselves. And one finds oneself saying: 'I
know the right question, but you know what? This is not exactly
the right time to ask it'."
tells Newsnight: "I
worry that patriotism run amok will trample the very values that
the country seeks to defend... In a constitutional republic, based
on the principles of democracy such as ours, you simply cannot sustain
warfare without the people at large understanding why we fight,
how we fight, and have a sense of accountability to the very top."
declares himself a patriot, but for him the essence of being American
is being able to bring the government to account: "It's
unpatriotic not to stand up, look them in the eye, and ask the questions
they don't want to hear - they being those who have the responsibility,
the ultimate responsibility in a society such as ours, of sending
our sons and daughters, our husbands, wives, our blood, to face
death, to take death. Now, in my position my view is not to ask
the tough questions in this kind of environment is the height of
lack of patriotism."
is also stinging about the lack of access and information the Bush
administration is giving news journalists over the war: "There
has never been an American war, small or large, in which access
has been so limited as this one.
access, limiting information to cover the backsides of those who
are in charge of the war, is extremely dangerous and cannot and
should not be accepted. And I am sorry to say that up to and including
the moment of this interview, that overwhelmingly it has been accepted
by the American people. And the current administration revels in
that, they relish that, and they take refuge in that.
being done practically in real terms is in direct variance with
the Pentagon's stated policy. The Pentagon stated policy is maximum
access and maximum information consistent with national security."
is dismissive about the new trend in American television - "militainment"
- mass market reality shows about life in the military. The Pentagon
has given unprecedented access to RJ Cutler to make Military Diaries
for VH1, which airs later this month. It features service men and
women talking personally about the music they listen to away from
home, and includes exclusive footage of Operation Anaconda.
says: "The belief runs so strong in both the political and
military leadership of the current war effort that those who control
the images will control public opinion. They realise what an entertainment-oriented
society ours has become. Therefore one way of looking at it is quite
natural, they would say to themselves: 'Hey, we've had the Hollywoodisation
of the news, we have had the Hollywoodisation of almost everything
else in society, why not the Hollywoodisation of the war?'
I want to say quietly but as forcefully as I can that I hope this
doesn't go any further, it has gone too far already. I am appalled
by it, I do think it is an outrage, this is a personal opinion."
Cutler - the maker of the Oscar-nominated documentary, The War Room,
on the 1992 Clinton campaign - responds: "I
always think what we do is more real than conventional news coverage.
I think that journalism has extraordinary merits and its place,
but that the work of documentary filmmakers is really to get to
the core of something both more dramatic and more human."
"militainment" TV shows include the upcoming Profiles
From the Frontline by Jerry Bruckheimer for ABC and the CBS drama
documentary JAG about life in the US Navy (which recently featured
a military tribunal). CBS has already aired - and pulled - the reality
TV show American Fighter Pilot.