Dan Rather, once the most watched newscaster on television as the anchor for “CBS Evening News,” is reemerging into the national spotlight as one of journalism’s most outspoken critics of the Trump Administration.
Rather’s 21st century platform is chiefly Facebook where he has over two million likes. He also hosts “Dan Rather’s America,” a weekly show on SiriusXM and “The Big Interview” on AXS TV.
Primarily, the 85-year-old Rather has been using his resurging popularity to warn of what he sees as Donald Trump’s threat to American democracy.
In a way he’s never abandoned his childhood dream of following in the footsteps of his journalism hero, Edward R. Murrow, who reported over radio the horrors of World War II. Rather once said that he has no doubt that he listened to Murrow more than any other kid in America.
Rather’s career at CBS began in 1962 the year after Murrow’s ended there. After two decades, Rather had ascended to the peak of fame at the network. Following the retirement in 1986 of another journalism legend, Walter Cronkite, Rather was chosen to anchor what was then the number one TV newscast in America.
However, Rather was never able to create an image like that of his predecessors. Murrow was urbane and relaxed; and Cronkite was fatherly and comforting. Rather, by contrast, never seemed completely at ease. His passion showed easily, making a sizable portion of both his audience and his critics uncomfortable.
One thing that Rather definitely shares with Murrow is the concern that television is used lmost often not to increase the intelligence of its audience but to dumb it down. While at CBS both men worried that TV news divisions would be forced to skim over serious news reportage in order to make room for fluff pieces that would garner larger ratings.
Rather’s concern was highlighted in 2000 when he did a segment for the short-lived “60 Minutes II” on Trump’s apparent interest in running for president. The broadcast gave CBS producers the showbiz glamour piece it wanted, but it also made clear how outrageous—at that time at least—it seemed for a publicity hungry New York playboy to seek the highest office in the land.
The story resulted in Trump’s strong dislike for Rather, someone to whom he had been polite and complimentary until then. Rather says the story should have been even harder on Trump.
Four years later Trump was soaring in the ratings with his hit TV reality show “The Apprentice” while Rather was weathering a storm of controversy surrounding the authenticity of documents he had used in a story about George W. Bush’s spotty record in the Texas Air National Guard.
Trump’s TV stardom was increasing while Rather’s was declining.
Meanwhile, during that same year of 2004, a new venture was launched. It was named Facebook.
Facebook has given the resurgent Rather the freedom to release all of that passion that had to be restrained while at CBS. Without corporate pressure, without the concern for ratings, without bosses, Rather has the opportunity to explore the topics that most concern him.
By far, the subject that captivates him most these days is what is happening to American democracy in the age of Trump. Rather doesn’t hide the fact that he believes these are dangerous times for the ideals that most of us have taken for granted.
Today’s Facebook has become Rather’s radio as he reports, like his hero Murrow, from the battlefields for an entirely new generation.