Dan Rather, the former anchorman of the CBS Evening News who left his position following controversy over the truthfulness of his own reporting, now says it’s “deeply disturbing” how some in today’s media “will report on Donald Trump’s potential future lies.”
“A lie, is a lie, is a lie,” Rather, who is now 85, said Monday. “Journalism, as I was taught it, is a process of getting as close to some valid version of the truth as is humanly possible. And one of my definitions of news is information that the powerful don’t want you to know.”
Rather is taking issue with a comment from Gerard Baker, editor of the Wall Street Journal, who was asked by Chuck Todd of NBC’s “Meet the Press” if his newspaper would call out any “lies” by the incoming president.
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I’d be careful about using the word, “lie.” “Lie” implies much more than just saying something that’s false. It implies a deliberate intent to mislead. … When Donald Trump says thousands of people were on the rooftops of New Jersey on 9/11 celebrating, thousands of Muslims were there celebrating, I think it’s right to investigate that claim, to report what we found, which is that nobody found any evidence of that whatsoever, and to say that.
I think it’s then up to the reader to make up their own mind to say, “This is what Donald Trump says. This is what a reliable, trustworthy news organization reports. And you know what? I don’t think that’s true.” I think if you start ascribing a moral intent, as it were, to someone by saying that they’ve lied, I think you run the risk that you look like you are, like you’re not being objective.
And I do think also it applies – this is happening all the time now, people are looking at Donald Trump’s saying and saying, “This is false. It’s a false claim.” I think people say, “Well, you know what? Hillary Clinton said a lot of things that were false.” I don’t recall the press being quite so concerned about saying that she lied in headlines or in stories like that.
Rather took great exception to Baker’s remarks, and posted a lengthy analysis:
So this statement … from the editor in chief of the Wall Street Journal about how his paper will report on Donald Trump’s potential (likely?) future lies is deeply disturbing. It is not the proper role of journalists to meet lies – especially from someone of Mr. Trump’s stature and power – by hiding behind semantics and euphemisms. Our role is to call it as we see it, based on solid reporting. When something is, in fact, a demonstrable lie, it is our responsibility to say so.
There is no joy in taking issue with the Journal’s chief editor. His newspaper is a publication for which I have deep respect for the overall quality of its reporting. But, as I have said before and will say as long as people are willing to listen, this is a gut check moment for the press. We are being confronted by versions of what are claimed to be “the truth” that resemble something spewed out by a fertilizer-spreader in a wind tunnel. And there is every indication that this will only continue in the Tweets and statements of the man who will now hold forth from behind the Great Seal of the President of the United States.
Some journalists and publications will rise to the occasion. Some will not. You as the paying, subscribing public, can use your leverage and pocketbooks to keep those who should be honest brokers of information, well, honest.
Ironically, in an interview with Bill O’Reilly of Fox News, Rather seemed to have less of a problem with lying.
“Who among us have not lied about something?” Rather explained.
“I think you can be an honest person and lie about any number of things.”
Watch Dan Rather’s remarks to Bill O’Reilly:
Rather himself famously became the focus of “fake news” when he reported on 2004 that there were a series of discovered memos critical of President George W. Bush’s Texas Air National Guard service during the Vietnam War.
The documents were quickly found to be forgeries. CBS retracted the story and fired Mary Mapes, the story’s producer. Rather subsequently retired from his broadcast position in 2005. The entire scandal has become known as both “Memogate” and “Rathergate.”
During the height of the scandal, Rather said, “If I knew then what I know now, I would not have gone ahead with the story as it was aired, and I certainly would not have used the documents in question.”
However, in 2007, Rather sang a very different tune as he defended his reporting on CNN’s “Larry King Live,” saying, “Nobody has proved that they (the documents) were fraudulent, much less a forgery. … The truth of this story stands up to this day.”
In 2015, radio host Rush Limbaugh noted of Rather and Mapes, “There is no doubt in anybody’s mind that these two people made this story up or accepted a forged bunch of documents that contributed to it being a story because they wanted to affect the outcome of the 2004 [presidential] race.”
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