RATHER, Dan. Eminent American journalist speaks out on journalist and Mainstream media self-censorship.

Daniel Irvin "Dan" Rather, Jr. (born 1931) is an American journalist, former news anchor for the CBS Evening News and now managing editor and anchor of a television news magazine, Dan Rather Reports, on the cable channel HDNet. Rather was anchor of the CBS Evening News for 24 years, from March 9, 1981, to March 9, 2005. He also contributed to CBS' 60 Minutes. Rather was involved in controversy about a disputed news report involving the 2004 U.S. Presidential Election, subsequently left CBS Evening News in 2005 and left the CBS network altogether after 43 years in 2006 (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dan_Rather  ).

 

Dan Rather on press self-censorship to the National Coalition Against Censorship (2008): “Therein, I believe, lies the central challenge of this cause to defend First Amendment rights: To make it understood from sea to shining sea, in towns big and small, that the First Amendment is not some scoundrel’s refuge for elites real or imagined, but a bulwark against tyranny for all Americans.

In the case of the press, the guarantee of a free press represented the Framers’ implicit understanding that journalists had an essential role to play in our democracy—that without the raw material of information, We the People would not be able to govern ourselves wisely or well.

So it is not for the press but for the people that we fight for access to the corridors of power, as the people’s surrogates. It is not for the press but for the people that we pressure our elected representatives and our candidates for office to answer the questions that the people might ask, if they had the opportunity. And it is not for the press but for the people that we defend (and call for our publishers and news owners to defend) our right to print and broadcast the truth—straight, no chaser.

If journalists hope to enlist our fellow Americans in the defense of the Constitutional rights that are there for all of us, we must inspire in them a sense that we are using these rights with a sense of Constitutional purpose. That is not to say that they are in any sense a privilege, rather than inalienable rights; it is to say that these rights will be taken seriously—and we will be taken seriously—only to the degree that we put them in practice towards serious ends.

And we might recognize that, when we work towards trivial ends, we undermine our case and we play a hand in eroding our hard-won freedoms.

I will say, in closing, that one of the most pernicious ways in which we do this is through self-censorship, which may be the worst censorship of all. We have seen too much self-censorship in the news in recent years, and as I say this please know that I do not except myself from this criticism. 

As Mark Twain once said, “We write frankly and freely but then we ‘modify’ before we print.” Why do we modify the free and frank expression of journalistic truth? We do it out of fear: Fear for our jobs. Fear that we’ll catch hell for it. Fear that someone will seek to hang a sign around our neck that says, in essence, “Unpatriotic.”

We modify with euphemisms such as “collateral damage” or “less than truthful statements.” We modify with passive-voice constructions such as “mistakes were made.” We modify with false equivalencies that provide for bad behavior the ready-made excuse that “everybody’s doing it.” And sometimes we modify with an eraser—simply removing offending and inconvenient truths from our reporting.” [1].

 

[1]. Dan Rather's remarks at NCAC's Annual Celebration of Free Speech and Its Defendents, National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC), 29 October 2008: http://ncac.org/Dan-Rathers-Remarks-at-the-Annual-Celebration .

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