In an interview on CNN last Sunday, Dan Rather criticized pro-war pundits who push for US military intervention around the world without being willing to send their children or grandchildren to fight.
While I support his sentiment, the fact is, Rather has no standing on this issue.
On September 17, 2001, less than a week after the 9-11 attacks, Rather went on The Late Show with David Letterman and beat the war drums like a one-man Taiko group.
It is understandable that Rather was perhaps swept up in the shock, grief, and anger felt so strongly in the immediate aftermath of September 11. It is not understandable that he should forget the role of a journalist in a democracy.
"Revenge is a dish best served cold," Rather told Letterman at one point.
But the statement I will never forget is when Rather, a journalist, said to David Letterman, "Wherever the president tells me to line up, I’ll line up."
It was perhaps the most the most chilling and Orwellian sentence I’ve ever heard from a journalist.
When the nation is reeling, and the fever of war is spreading, is the moment we most need a independent, skeptical press.
Dan Rather failed the test when it mattered most.
UPDATE — August 28, 2014:
Media critic and NYU professor Jay Rosen pointed out to me on Twitter that in the CNN interview Dan Rather included himself in his critique of pre-Iraq War punditry. Thanks, Jay, for the heads up. This is relevant information that definitely changes things. I based the post above on these two articles, one on Talking Points Memo, and one on Huffington Post, neither of which mention Rather’s self-indicment in their text. That said, it was sloppy of me to post about an interview I had not watched in full.
Here is the relevant quote from Rather, from about 6:32 in the interview:
Dan Rather: "Those of us in journalism, and I include myself in this, we have a lot to answer for about what we didn’t do and what we did do in the run-up to war in Iraq, which I think history will judge to be a strategic disaster of historic proportions. We journalists–including this one–we didn’t ask the right questions, we didn’t ask enough questions, we didn’t ask the follow-up questions. We did not challenge power."
Again, I should have been aware of, and included Rather’s self-critique in my original post. However, I still don’t think Rather understands the significant difference between "not asking enough questions," and his active war-drumming on national television, in a moment of crisis. For this reason, after considering changing the title of the post to "Dan Rather’s change of heart," I think "Dan Rather’s hypocrisy" is still most accurate.