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.