Journalists Need To Do Their Damn Jobs (with Dan Rather)

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Description

Storied news anchor and journalist Dan Rather has reported on some of the world’s most important events – from Georgia’s church pews at the height of the civil rights movement, to deadly student protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, to the collapse of the Twin Towers on 9/11. Dan’s been at the epicenter of American media since the ‘60s, and now, at age 89, he’s found himself a dedicated following on social media as well. He joins us to talk free speech, disinformation, and what a 70-year career in journalism has taught him.

 

Keep up with Julián on twitter @JulianCastro and Instagram @JulianCastroTX

 

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To follow along with a transcript and/or take notes for friends and family, go to http://lemonadamedia.com/show/our-america shortly after the air date.

 

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Transcript

SPEAKERS

Dan Rather, Julian Castro

Julian Castro  00:01

Our country has undergone quite a number of changes in the last four years, and journalism has changed with it

Dan Rather 

Direct from our newsroom in New York. This is the CBS Evening News with Dan Rather substituting for Walter Cronkite.

Julian Castro 

And this week, I talked with Dan Rather. A legendary journalist and news anchor who has covered pretty much every event you can think of over the past 60 years.

Dan Rather

Good evening, everyone, various elements of the Democratic Party acknowledging an imperative need for unity.

Julian Castro 

When TV news was at the epicenter of American media, Dan was anchoring the top-rated newscast and today at 89. He’s found a loyal following on new media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

Dan Rather 

It’s very difficult now with so many news outlets, so much misinformation, so much propaganda and lies to make of yourself a formed news consumer.

Julian Castro 

Having accurate information is vital to so many things, our understanding of the world, our trust in institutions, and even the policy we implement. And while digital technology has enabled us to better access and share information with the click of a button, it’s also led to the proliferation of disinformation and echo chambers. It’s a reality that has seemingly reached a breaking point in the past few weeks.

Reporter on TV 

Mr. Trump lost his primary megaphone overnight when Twitter permanently shut down his personal account. Breaking off his connection to nearly 90 million followers.

Reporter on TV 

As Facebook and Twitter banned users for supporting the violent mobs at the US Capitol last week, downloads search for a less restrictive social media app called Parlor.

Reporter on TV 

So, the President’s banned from Twitter at 8 million followers banned from Facebook 35 million followers. Parlor appears to be getting shut down. What do you make of all this?

Julian Castro 

Freedom of speech is one of the most important rights we have as Americans. But how do we reconcile the rights of private companies with the collateral effects of censorship? Dan joins us to talk about striking that balance, the power of big tech and the lessons we can learn from journalism’s past to overcome the obstacles our country is facing now.

Julian Castro  02:17

This is OUR AMERICA. I’m your host, Julian Castro.

Julian Castro 

Hey, Dan, thank you so much for joining me today.

Dan Rather 

I’m delighted to be with you. You know, that’s kind of a foggy, overcast day here in Austin. But we’ve had some beautiful weather and what could be better to have a conversation with you.

Julian Castro 

Yeah, I’m here in San Antonio. So just down the road, I have to say, you know, I was really looking forward to this interview because I’ve admired you for a long time. My brother Joaquin and I grew up watching the CBS Evening News with my mother and my grandmother. My grandmother used to tell us that when my mom was young, she had a crush on you. When you were a reporter at CBS News. And Joaquin and I, at one time wanted to go into broadcast journalism. When we went to Stanford, we thought we were going to become TV reporters. And you know, that was due in no small part because we had watched you growing up and so it’s really neat to get to have a conversation.

Julian Castro 

You started your career in 1950. And you’ve done it all. I mean, you’ve written for the Houston Chronicle worked at KHOU TV. And then of course, you anchor the CBS Evening News for 24 years. You covered the Kennedy Assassination. You covered the Vietnam War, you covered Watergate, 9/11. When you think back to your distinguished career, are there one or two moments that you look back on most fondly, that are the most poignant, yeah, what are those one or two moments that you think back to?

Dan Rather 

Oh, I’ve had a lot of poignant moments. One of them holding was when I was assigned as my first, very first major assignment for CBS News to cover the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And what were some of the beginnings of what we now know is supervised.

Dan Rather  04:17

“Martin Luther King is among those who has vowed not to let the voter registration movement in Leesburg.” “Dr. Martin Luther King came down from Montgomery, Alabama last month to give the Albany movement impetus. He told these people that the road to integration would require unity and patience, as well as courage.”

Dan Rather 

Covering Dr. King in those days, it changed me as a person, and it changed me as a pro. As a consequence of that. It’s always been one of the most poignant moments to look back on. Tiananmen Square, which is story which is unfortunately fading.

Dan Rather 

“As the world watches and listens in the peaceful pro-democracy demonstrators In China comes to a violent and bloody end, crush by waves of Chinese military forces. Hundreds..”

Dan Rather

And we took CBS News to Tiananmen Square. And we’re out front and bringing this story to the world. I knew it was a big story. I knew it was one of the biggest stories I covered. Poignant. I don’t know about poignant, but I think very often. And of course, it was 9/11. It’s a rare day that goes by that in one way or the other. I don’t still think about 9/11, not so much my coverage involved in it, but just the country was that day? And how was it we weren’t coming back. And I hope we can find some resiliency over these next months and years, because we’re going to need it.

Julian Castro 

One of the things that I remember really distinctly about 9/11, I guess, I was 27 years old, 26 years old. I remember the days after 9/11, that the country felt more united more together than it had in a very long time. Where do you place in Modern American history? From what you have seen? Where do you place what happened at the Capitol on January 6th, and what it says about where we are now as a country?

Dan Rather  06:25

Well, where I place it, it’s as important as anything that has happened in my lifetime. And when you take off, you know, the deadlines and deadlines that have covered in the past, sometimes there’s a tendency to over emphasize the present, because we’re leading through it. But by any objective analysis, this is one of the most critical times in the country. And you know, where it leaves us is, frankly, I’m worried. I’m an optimist by nature and by experience, and I tend to want to be positive and always like to blow on the embers of hope. And I do so now. But we have to be realistic about the fact that over 70 million people voted to return Donald Trump, to the presidency, for a second term lays out the shadow of what I think will be a challenge, it’s going to go pretty far into the future of how to reconcile ourselves.

Dan Rather

I’m not an expert on reconciliation. But when I think of Joe Biden’s many challenges, and he representative of us all, has some tremendous challenges. But none is greater, in fact, very few are as important as this business. We have to reconcile ourselves. Now how we do that? I don’t know. I do think it begins with each of us asking ourselves, well, can we listen to other people? People, frankly, more important, the ones that we almost  disagree with, we need to listen to each other and see if we can find some kind of common ground.

Dan Rather  08:09

You know, from your own experiences, particularly being a mayor is one of the toughest jobs in America to be the mayor of a city the size of San Antonio, it’s a constant effort to find common ground to say to folks, “Look, I know there’s 100 things we disagree on, isn’t really one thing here, where we can get together and do something and then try to build on that.” Metaphorically, I think that’s where we are as a country that people like today.

Julian Castro

You interviewed Donald Trump for a 60 minutes two piece that I think aired in early January of 2000, when he was thinking about running on the Reform Party ticket. And one of the questions that you asked him, which I thought was a brilliant, straightforward question was..

Dan Rather

“Let’s talk about your values. What are your values?”

Donald Trump 

“Well, I think I’m a great father. I have fantastic children, four great children. And I believe in family, I believe in marriage. I believe in religion. ”

Dan Rather 

You said, you value family?

Donald Trump 

“I do value family. In fact, I think the biggest disappointment was that..”

Julian Castro

But now that we’ve seen four years of Donald Trump as president and a year and a half before that of the campaign. What do you think his values are?

Dan Rather

Honestly, I have no idea. His values are not what he stumbled around that interview trying to allude to it’s not what we would say classic American family values. The values of someone who believes deeply in our institutions and institutions of government that form our system of checks and balances. But, you know, I have no idea I can’t read on Trump’s heart. What we can judge him on his acts, and his presidency was marked not only by chaos and confusion. I always felt it was so dysfunctional, that part of the presidency didn’t get as much negative coverage as much common as I thought it should have. It’s so chaotic and dysfunctional, because so much of the rest of his administration dealt in one way or the other with, I don’t know to use an old-fashioned word dealt with mendacity.

Dan Rather  10:22

So the combination of dysfunction, chaos, and just outright mendacity. He and those around him did with children on the border. I mean, it’s a story long since gone. But it still echoes with me, I think, and it echoes through a lot of people. It’s absolutely unconscionable. So when you talk about what his values are, I just don’t know. I will say this. He is a master of a major mediums of his time. Franklin Roosevelt was a master of radio. And it got in four terms as President. John Kennedy was a master of television. He rolled it into the presidency. When it comes to the internet and social media. Donald Trump mastered it. He mastered that before anybody else in politics really got a handle on it.

Dan Rather

Yes, Obama took advantage of the internet, beginning with his presidency run in 2008. But Donald Trump sees the whole idea of social media, we shouldn’t exist much during Obama’s time and use it to his advantage. This has to do with getting back to that phrase, communicable trust between the leadership and the red, that Trump managed to use social media together a very loyal following. Now, it was never a majority. But that happened 40% to 43%. I think we can say thankfully, it’s now down to what 20% to 30%? Donald Trump was good and compelling at convincing people, particularly people in the lower and middle echelons of the economic system, that he represented real change. He was good at convincing people that he had done that in his private and personal business life. And he could do it as President.

Julian Castro 

Help make them successful that way.

Dan Rather 12:21

That’s right. Exactly. Yeah. No, there are a lot of people in the country that are really hurting. And if I may say, so really, one of the things I admired about your presidential campaign, is that you try to give voice to those people who are decent people who love their country, and are aching to do something to make things better for their kids, who just helps center themselves, the system is not working for me, we have to make a change. Enter Donald Trump into that saying, I am a very successful businessman, I have recognized that you want a need dramatic change for the better. And I’ve delivered on that. Donald Trump, after all the things he did and didn’t do, run a chaotic, and in some ways, damned administration, he’s still got more than 70 million votes.

Julian Castro

You think about that today, as we were talking about the feeling of the country now and how divided it often feels, especially in light of what happened on January 6, and these very real wounds and the polarization. You wrote a book called  “What Unites Us”, as you see it, what do you think unites us? And what do we need to build on?

Dan Rather 

One of the things I think unites us, and I recognize there are people who no longer believe this, but I believe that the overwhelming majority of the people in the United States are absolutely dedicated and yes, are still willing to give up their lives, to preserve this constitutional republic, based on the principles of freedom and democracy, that we have, the preservation of the American dream of a free people striving ever to make more perfect union, not that we’ll ever have a perfect union, but ever striving to make it more perfect.

Dan Rather  14:27

I think overwhelmingly Americans of race, color, creed, religion, ideology, believing that is one of the things you notice. What I tried to do with the book, what unites us is, I did try to offer a few things. I think unites us in concluding what I just said, and the commitment to the rule of law, our commitment to one person, one vote, but what I’ve tried to do with the book is start a conversation. I think in a system and a country such as ours, we need to have a constant conversation of look we’re trying something that nobody else in history has ever really tried by sort of succeeding, and that is hold together united, a country that is multiracial, multi religious, multi ethnic, with a demographic that, that no country in the history of the world have ever tried to do what we’re trying to do.

Dan Rather 

And therefore, we need to have a constant conversation of what unites us. I would also say, I think one of the things that unites us, is a dedication to trying to make life better for our children. I think these are among the things that unites us. But it’s a difficult period, I don’t want anybody to think that I’m sort of off on my own, everything is going to be wonderful. I think we can be better; I think we can reach higher ground, but only if we really work at it, and are willing to listen to one another and work with one another. Otherwise, this time of reckoning we’re going through now, it’s not going to have a very good ending.

Julian Castro  16:00

Yeah, after the events of January 6th, and you bring up a great point, and I think a lot of people would agree with you the first truly, you know, social media savvy president for his full term, where it was in bloom the entire time was Donald Trump, especially on Twitter. Now, a lot of people would say that you’ve mastered social media as well, because you have millions of people that follow you on Twitter and on Facebook, You once told the Columbia Journalism Review that you are convinced by others, before you jumped onto Twitter and Facebook, that you had to do this in order to be relevant in today’s times.

Julian Castro

And so what do you make now of Twitter and Facebook, cutting Donald Trump off from these two platforms that you recognized, you know, a decade or so ago, are absolutely essential, as you say, to keep you relevant, and that he certainly used to his maximum advantage as President, what does it mean for him then?

Dan Rather

Well, we’ll see what it means for him, I’ll be very interested to see what he decides to do, how he tries to continue his advantage on these platform. But number one, that footnote bottom of the page is true, I will slowly come around to social media, and had to be convinced to do so by my two grandsons, and young members of my own staff who said, “Look, it’s not an option, if you want to be relevant even on the edges, even in some microscopic way. You got to be on social media.” And so I put my toe into it first, not really believing in found an audience for which I’m very grateful, but to the larger question of the social media platforms that in many ways helped create the Donald Trump, that the country has come to know.

Dan Rather 

In the end, right at the end, cut him off and [UNCLEAR]. I’ll be candid with you. And I be surprised that this is shared by a lot of people. I have several minds about this. censorship is something we need to be very, very careful of. And these are, you know, they’re independent companies. This is not the government shutting somebody off. So these two very big companies. That’s right, yeah. So those who don’t like Trump and worried about what was happening in the country applauding this, but I think we have to be very careful. Going forward, we need to have a national debate about this. Now, my own personal opinion, clearly labeled is that there needs to be a kind of trust busting.

Dan Rather  18:41

There needs to be more competition, that too few companies control too much other social media platforms. In my dreams, we would have a 21st century Teddy Roosevelt, who did with these companies, what Roosevelt did with the railroad monopolies and the oil monopolies and so forth. I hope I can be forgiven when I say about several lines of false equivalency, but on the one hand, yes, I think they made the right move. I think they waited too late to do it. They have a lot to answer for because he didn’t do it a long time ago. On the other hand, be really reluctant to applaud it too enthusiastically. As long as these few companies have this much power.

Julian Castro 

Well, and to your point, I think the ACLU put out a statement, throwing out a cautionary note about you know, don’t celebrate too loudly because that’s a lot of power that these few companies have. And I do think that part of the answer certainly is what you’re talking about more competition. We also saw though, even in this case, mean there was a competitor and Parlor and then Parlor got you know, the rug pulled out from under it by Amazon Web Services.

Dan Rather 

Right, but let me turn to the tables. What do you think?

Julian Castro  20:01

Well, I mean, I think they made the right move. I certainly believe that there have been instances before where Donald Trump should have been suspended. I think him personally that his account should have been locked a long time ago. At the same time, I recognize that is a tremendous amount of power to have in constitutional law. I’m trying to remember back, you know, my con law from one year, you know, people have said, for instance, “hey, this doesn’t really relate to the First Amendment because the First Amendment says Congress shall make no law.” You know, if I were arguing the other side of that, I would say, “well, in some instances, there are what are called limited public forums, shopping centers, that because they are so public, they basically become like a public space.”

Julian Castro 

In some ways. I think that Twitter and Facebook are like that, they’ve taken on the character of limited public forums. So all of that is to say, I do think that we have to be very careful with that power that they have. And I’m glad it seems like that with the Biden administration, we’re going to have regulators who are going to perhaps try and figure this out going forward.

Dan Rather 

Well, Amen, I agree.

Julian Castro 

Yeah, let’s hope.

Dan Rather  21:16

A lot of people you mentioned regulators or your defenses go up. But I do think this is a case where some serious consideration needs to be given some sort of at least very broad regulation. And again, again, back to breaking out the power of these companies.

Julian Castro

You have said many, many times that you are a journalist at heart. That’s what you love to do. And it’s amazing that you continue to do that and reach millions of people. Edward R. Murrow was one of your heroes, somebody that you came up looking up to,

Edward R. Murrow  22:03

I think there was an enormous job to be done by radio and reporting this country to itself. I think the absence of regionalism in this country is deplorable. I think the fact that most people talk with the same accent where the same kind of clothes tell the same stories from one end of the country to the other, is deplorable and is diminishing the sum total of strength.

Julian Castro 

He did documentaries like harvest or shame that brought attention to the plight of migrant farmworkers, obviously covered the McCarthy hearings, sort of the godfather of TV news, what do you think that he would say about the media landscape today, if he were here?

Dan Rather 

Well, first of all, I do think he would be appalled. I think he’ll be absolutely appalled to be asking today, first of all, for the very science of it. Murrow was always worried about certain media companies getting too big. But he was talking in the late 1950s, early 1960s. And having today he would be aghast to see the widespread influence and reach of the internet. Secondly, I think he’ll be very much concerned that there isn’t more regulation. I suspect that Murrow would say we the people united states made a very big mistake, when we didn’t have some government control. When cable television first began operating in the late 70s, early 1980s.

Dan Rather 

That is, you know, there’s been government regulation and control over the airwaves, television. But they did virtually none over cable television. So I think you call it that. I think the biggest thing that concerned Murrow is such questions as well, who is a journalist today, that a lot of people claiming to be journalists who are actually in the entertainment business. Some of the hardest things he had to say, was about mixing entertainment values with news values. So I think you very much concerned and public of the blurring of the lines, where sometimes you can’t tell the difference between news entertainment.

Julian Castro  24:30

One of the biggest problems that we’ve seen during the last few years, especially around the 2016 election, and the 2020 election has been disinformation. The level of disinformation out there has been tremendous and has given birth to the QAnon conspiracy and a number of other things. What do you make of the level of disinformation and what do you think that we need to do about it?

Dan Rather 

Well, first of all, I think the If you are dedicated to trying to preserve our system of government, you have to really be concerned about the tremendous success, that disinformation, outright lies and straight-out propaganda, the success they’ve had in our country over the last few years, really stunning, what we can do about it going forward, among other things is one begin teaching. And I think it should be required course, for every student in the country no later than seventh grade of how to be an intelligent consumer of news, is very difficult now with so many news outlets, so much misinformation, so much propaganda and lies to make of yourself uninformed news, consumers. So that’s one thing.

Dan Rather 

Included in that would be by the way, they are reviving the teaching of civics. That hasn’t been that long ago that civics such things as how does the city ordinance gets passed? How does a piece of legislation get passed in Washington, we’re actually taught in civics classes in schools, they’ve mostly gone out of fashion these days. So those are two things we can do going forward. And the other I think, is that we journalists need to step it up and not include myself in this insight. You know, look, there are a lot of things we can’t change disinformation and propaganda bias, tried to cut the media. What we can do is, do our damn jobs.

Dan Rather  26:30

What is our job? What is our mission to get to the truth as close to the truth as humanly possible. And to tell it, you know, news is not an exact science as you know. News [UNCLEAR]. And we’re going to make mistakes. But I do think it’s time for journalists to give ourselves a bit of a [UNCLEAR]. And not say, well, this that needs to be done. But other people, what we need to do is we dedicated ourselves to what we consider to be our life’s work, and do it the best we can. And that will help in the fight against disinformation, propaganda.

Julian Castro 

American journalism has been centered in a lot of ways around this 50/50, telling both sides of the story which has merit. But what do you do when one group seems to have gone into the ditch, as evidenced by 1000s of people going to the Capitol and taking over the Capitol? How does that traditional both sides journalism work? Do you have to adjust? How do you reflect on that?

Dan Rather 

Well, I do a lot of reflecting. And you touch a certain nerve for me. Because for most of my journalistic career, I was taught to open as a student, and it isn’t prejudice to do so called, quote, “objective journalism” which took the idea, all of us have our biases, and no one can be without biases. But insofar as is humanly possible, to set aside your biases, in the 21st century with the development of internet and social media is very clear that this has led to an over reliance on false equivalency, which used to say, okay, the democrats say one thing, give them four paragraphs, the republicans say another thing and give them four paragraphs. And this false equivalency was one of the many things that help lead us to Donald Trump.

Dan Rather  28:22

And realizing that every journalist I know, and it’s certainly true of myself, has had to say themselves over the last four or five years, well, wait a minute, we need to make a judgement. There is not always two sides to every story. Sometimes there are four or five sides, to stories. two and two, does not make five, it makes for one or there’s not one uphill There are certain objective facts of things. So if somebody says somebody says water doesn’t run uphill, and another person says what [UNCLEAR] You don’t give the same equivalency, those two things. I hope this is to your point is something we struggle with. Journalism is reforming in some ways, and one of the ways is reforming is to be as fair as you possibly can be.

Dan Rather 

Get as close to the truth as you can do. And don’t flinch. Before Donald Trump came into office, not very many journalists would use the word lie, even if a politician told them of bold-faced lie.

Dan Rather 

They wouldn’t do it. And I was among those. Now, what changed during the Trump era was realizing that when you have a president who tells you literally 10s of 1000s of lies, this doesn’t serve the country will because it doesn’t share the truth will conduct and dies, that when a lie is a lie. You have to call it a lie. And there’s much more of that spirit in journalism today. But we’re going to be struggling with this question for quite a while of how not only to be fair, but to get to the truth, and to convince people of what we’re doing. I sometimes think we don’t try to explain what we think we are doing. Other people, we have to judge how well or how we’re doing it. But we hope we’re doing, what we think we’re doing, is the mission of Germans just get as close to the truth as is humanly possible, and tell it in the fairest way. But don’t go through contortions, trying to twist yourself inside out, trying to gain favor with everybody.

Julian Castro 

They wouldn’t do it.

Julian Castro  30:35

And my last question is, you know, somewhere out there today, there’s a little girl, a little boy who is watching the news, on TV or on the internet, and is fascinated by journalism. And they know that they’re gonna go out and be a reporter. You’ve had a long and distinguished career in journalism. It’s what you love. You know about the challenges of yesterday and the challenges of today and tomorrow in it. What is your advice to that young kid that has a twinkle in their eye for journalism?

Dan Rather 

First, If it’s your passion, go for it. If it’s your dream, dream big, absolutely for it. But know that it’s gonna be really hard to make your way. It’s one of the tougher professions in which to get a start in a handhold at the beginning. And tough even after you get that first job to hold on and making journalism but it can be a great career, if you’re willing to give your whole heart to it.

Dan Rather 

Second thing is never lose your idealism. That in journalism, you see if I’m a Dickensian side of life and underside of life, a lot of cynicism, out of violence, a lot of bad things that can turn you into a cynic pretty easily. So you have to trade your idealism, future idealism. The third thing is learn to write well dedicate yourself to becoming a better writer on your life, because the bedrock of the craft is good writing. But I ended this advices I began it by saying, if you dream it, go for it. It can happen.

Julian Castro  32:26

That’s wonderful advice. And, you know, I want to thank you for joining me. And thank you for continuing to use your voice to inspire so many folks, may 2021 be a better year, a more hopeful one.

Dan Rather

Amen to that. Thank you very much, Julian. Good luck, Godspeed. Thank you for having me on.

Julian Castro

It would our moral once wrote, The right of dissent. Or, if you prefer, the right to be wrong, is surely fundamental to the existence of a democratic society. As tech companies gain more and more wealth and power, while simultaneously becoming the go to platforms for public speech, there’s perhaps never been a better time to examine the role that free speech plays in our society, and how we value truth and freedom at the same time. If you’d like to submit your reflections, you can email our team at ouramerica@lemonadamedia.com. Next week, we’re joined by two women who tell us about their firsthand experience in the Los Angeles foster care system and why the LAPD is only making matters worse for foster youth.

CREDITS

OUR AMERICA is a Lemonada Original. This episode was produced by Matthew Simonson. Jackie Danziger is our supervising producer. Our associate producer is Giulia  Hjort. Kegan Zema is our technical director. Music is by Hannis Brown. Executive producers are Stephanie Wittels Wachs, Jessica Cordova Kramer and Julian Castro. Help others find our show by leaving us a rating and writing a review. Follow us at @LemonadaMedia across all social platforms, or find me on Twitter at @JulianCastro or in Instagram at @JulianCastroTX

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