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Dan Rather Won't Take any "Bullshine" | The Nation

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.

Dan Rather Won't Take any "Bullshine"

It was riveting television. There was former CBS news anchor Dan Rather, sitting across from CNN's Larry King, railing against the threat powerful media corporations pose to freedom and journalistic integrity. "You can't have freedom if you're going to have large corporations and government intruding on investigative reporting," Dan told a none-too-happy King. Dan's championing of independent media got me thinking about The Nation's first centerfold. Published twelve years ago on glossy paper, this wasn't your typical centerfold. It was a pull out four- page silky spread depicting the media multinational giants which determined so much of what we saw and heard. There were GE, Disney/Cap Cities, Westinghouse (later Viacom/ CBS) and Time-Warner as octopi.... At that time, the threat media consolidation, hyper-conglomeratization posed to our democracy was not an issue on the national radar for debate, let alone televised conversation. But in these last years, as the line between news and entertainment has been forever obliterated--a media and democracy movement has emerged to challenge corporate control of our publicly-owned airwaves. In 2003, three million citizens, in a transpartisan alliance, petitioned the FCC to halt the repeal of cross-ownership rules restricting how many tv or radio stations, newspapers one company could own in one town. Today, media consolidation is the subject of conferences, tv shows, Charlie Rose chatfests, books, legislation and FCC Commissioner Michael Copps has emerged as one of the country's most eloquent champions of more localism and diversity of media ownership and content. And it now appears that Dan Rather will join the hearty and growing band of media reformers as another strong voice on this issue. Certainly, Rather, judging from tonight's CNN interview, views his lawsuit against Viacom, CBS and three of its corporate employees as an attempt to expose--using subpoena power-- how big media conglomerates are more interested in pacifying the powers-that-be than supporting public interest investigative journalism. The trial, if it goes to trial, will put corporate executives like Sumner Redstone under oath--allowing questions about what role the Bush White House may have played in Rather's fate at CBS. Just last April, Rather---perhaps prefiguring the lawsuit he would file-- spoke of the political pressures people working in corporate newsrooms face. In Bill Moyers' superb PBS documentary reporting on how the media--with a few exceptions-- failed to do its job in the runup to war, Rather spoke of how: " Fear is in every newsroom in the country. And fear of what? Well, a combination of : If you don't go along to get along, you're going to get the reputation of being a troublemaker. There's also the fear, particularly in networks. They've become huge, international conglomerates. They have big needs. Legislative needs, in Washington. Nobody has ot send a memo to tell you that that's the case...and that puts a seed in your mind. Well, if you stick your neck out, if you take the risk of going against the grain with your reporting is anybody going to back you up? " Dan Rather was never a newsman who went along " to get along." But now, as songwriter Kris Kristofferson might have put it, Rather seems like a man who understands that freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose. And he's decided he's going to use his freedom to fight for the future of free and independent media.

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