Iconic reporter Dan Rather spoke out on Facebook today, encouraging political journalists to use their backbones as well as their keyboards, in covering the neo-fascist presumptive Republican Presidential nominee. The call to action by the former host of the CBS Evening News – which you can see in full below – comes at a time when the entire mainstream news media seems to suddenly have woken from their week ratings party hangovers and decided that in fact, the job of the press is to vet political candidates – get this – while they are still running for office.
Media outlets openly gave Trump a free pass starting last summer when they desperately – and shamefully – competed against each other in pursuit of those sweet, sweet ratings, no matter how outrageous or awful his behavior. No matter how absurd his behavior became, whether it was demanding bans on Muslims entering the United States, building walls, or making fun of his rivals, they ate it up and covered him non-stop, giving him billions in free airtime and allowed preposterous claims to go unchallenged. Dan Rather’s impassioned plea to American media comes on the heels of a particularly galling press conference with Trump, who was forced to acknowledge his failure to send promised donations to veterans charities. Rather wrote:
I felt a shudder down my spine yesterday watching Donald Trump’s fusilade against the press. This is not a moment to be trifled with. It wasn’t his first tirade and it won’t be his last.
I was reminded of my college journalism professor, the late Hugh Cunningham, who would exhort his young charges in a thundering voice to “never let them scare you.” It was his most important lesson. One of Edward R. Murrow’s favorite words was “steady.” That also bears repeating today.
This is a dirty, nasty election. And it is only going to get worse. The reporters in the trenches need no lecture from me. They are walking through daily minefields, bracing themselves against winds of discontent whose effects no one can predict.
I know what it is like to sit in those seats and feel the scorn and even wrath of politicians of all political persuasions. Attacking the press for unfair coverage has long been a bipartisan pursuit. Sometimes it works. I am happy to say that more often it doesn’t. But Trump’s brand of vituperation is particularly personal and vicious. It carries with it the drumbeats of threatening violence. It cannot be left unanswered.
This is not about politics or policy. It’s about protecting our most cherished principles. The relationship between the press and the powerful they cover is by its very definition confrontational. That is how the Founding Fathers envisioned it, with noble clauses of protection enshrined in our Constitution.
Good journalism–the kind that matters–requires reporters who won’t back up, back down, back away or turn around when faced with efforts to intimidate them. It also requires owners and other bosses with guts, who stand by and for their reporters when the heat is on.
I still believe the pen is mightier than the sword. And in these conflicted and troubled times, we should reward the bravery of the men and women not afraid to ask the hard questions of everyone in power. Our nation’s future depends on it.
Rather is not the only retired CBS journalist who thinks the modern mainstream media stinks, and has been captured by profit pressure, trading access for softball stories. Investigative reporter Al Sunshine spent over 40 years in the media, the last 25 of those years as the lead consumer investigator with flagship CBS affiliate station WFOR in Miami. Sunshine worked through the time period where the old-school of print, TV and radio were king, until slowly giving viewers and mindshare away to internet news websites, YouTube, podcasting and of course social media.
“In this day and age, many news departments are more interested in maintaining the status-quo of their sales teams than being known for aggressive, hard hitting political reporting,” said Sunshine who today is an environmental activist and President of the Miami Pine Rocklands Coalition, “Candidates, parties and advertisers can put pressure on news departments to back off on aggressive coverage, and in most cases, that may be what’s happening today.”
As Dan Rather pointed out, adversarial journalism in America has virtually died, and that demise has not so coincidentally coincided with the success of Donald Trump’s dirty campaign of lies and vulgarity. Rather’s broadside was triggered by this week’s Nixon-esque press conference after Memorial Day, which ended with the orange faced one declaring the America’s free press enemy number one in no uncertain terms. After Dan Rather’s online declaration of war, the American mainstream media must pick up the mantle and expose his various scams and lies fully, to inform the public and hopefully convince the American people that it’s not too late to ditch this abrasive con-man.
Grant Stern is the Executive Editor of Occupy Democrats and published author. His new Meet the Candidates 2020 book series is distributed by Simon and Schuster. He's also mortgage broker, community activist and radio personality in Miami, Florida., as well as the producer of the Dworkin Report podcast. Grant is also an occasional contributor to Raw Story, Alternet, and the DC Report, and a senior advisor to the Democratic Coalition