Without his make-up, Dan looked like hell warmed over: old, defeated, yet angry. And he told our television audience something that just blew me away. American journalists, Dan Rather said, simply may not ask tough questions about George Bush or his wars.
“It’s an obscene comparison,” Rather said, “but there was a time in South Africa when people would put flaming tires around people’s necks if they dissented. In some ways, the fear is that you will be neck-laced here, you will have a flaming tire of lack of patriotism put around your neck.”
Talking to another reporter, Dan told it straight about the careerism that keeps US reporters in line. “It’s that fear that keeps [American] journalists from asking the toughest of the tough questions and to continue to bore-in on the tough questions so often.”
Silence as patriotism. He admitted, “One finds oneself saying, ‘I know the right question, but you know what, this is not exactly the right time to ask it.” It was making him ill and he was ready to say, basta, enough. Suddenly, there was fire in those eyes.
“It’s extremely dangerous and cannot and should not be accepted and I’m sorry to say that, up to and including this moment of this interview, that overwhelmingly it has been accepted by the American people. And the current Administration revels in that, they relish and take refuge in that.”
Of course, Dan said all these things to a British audience. But back in the USA, Dan had promised America he would be a good boy, a trained press puppy who would poop on the paper set down for him. He told his US audience, “George Bush is the President. He makes the decisions. He wants me to line up, just tell me where.”
But CBS’ million-dollar man was about to step out of line.
In 2003, BBC Television questioned George Bush’s career as Viet Nam era Top Gun fighter pilot. In the British broadcast, I held up a confidential letter from Justice Department files stating that Poppy Bush had put in the fix to get Junior Bush out of ‘Nam and into the Texas Air Guard. George could spend the war protecting Houston from Viet Cong attack.
A year after the BBC broadcast, the I’m-going-to-be-a-real-journalist-now Rather decided to run the same story on 60 Minutes. And just as he predicted, the press-police at the network and in the White House seized him and lit the tire around his neck.
What was Dan’s mistake? Yes, yes, he shouldn’t have embellished the story with a document he couldn’t fully source. But that memo (not the one in the BBC report) was about a side issue, not the key accusation, that Senior Bush got Junior out of the draft. Despite not a jot of evidence that the main story of draft-dodgin’ George was wrong (BBC never withdrew it), CBS cited Rather’s insistence on the veracity of that report as grounds to crush his career and his reputation.
Rather was convicted by a corporate kangaroo court. Dickie Thornburgh, who had been Poppy Bush’s Attorney General and owed his big salaries and career to the Bush family, ran an “independent” investigation which concluded — surprise! — the Bushes had done no wrong. It was Dan that committed the evil. That whacky conclusion went along just fine with the diktat of Sumner Redstone, CEO of Viacom, CBS’ owner, that a “Republican administration is better for media companies.”
In “Darkness at Noon,” Arthur Koestler explained why old Communists, brought up for trial by Stalin, still sang the system’s praises — just before they were shot. To do otherwise would have been to cast doubt on the cause to which they sacrificed their lives. Now, Dan Rather, like those soon-to-be executed victims of Stalin, has bowed his head in silence in the face of the evil purge. To do otherwise, I suppose, would be to acknowledge that his career has been a path of increasing salaries and celebrity bought by increasing toady-dom.
Imagine if Edward R. Murrow, after having exposed Joe McCarthy, replied to criticism by bowing his head for the noose-man.
Rather died as a journalist years ago by accepting the evil gag orders of the media moguls. Still, I applaud his attempt with the Bush story to kick his way out of his professional coffin. Unfortunately, his current silence simply gives aid and comfort to the censoring corporate news-killers.
Tonight, Rather read off his last “news” broadcast, if you can call it that. To Dan the newsman, and to American journalism, all I can say is, rest in peace.
Greg Palast is the author of the New York Times bestseller, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy. Subscribe to his reports at www.gregpalast.com