US media cowed by
patriotic fever, says CBS star
Network news veteran admits
national mood caused him to shrink from tough questions on war in
Matthew Engel in
Friday May 17, 2002
Dan Rather, the star news anchor for the US television network CBS,
said last night that "patriotism run amok" was in danger of
trampling the freedom of American journalists to ask tough questions.
And he admitted that he had shrunk from taking on the Bush
administration over the war on terrorism.
In the weeks after September 11 Rather wore a Stars and Stripes pin in
his lapel during his evening news show in an apparent display of total
solidarity with the American cause. However, in an interview with
BBC's Newsnight, he graphically described the pressures to conform
that built up after the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the
"It is an obscene comparison - you know I am not sure I like it -
but you know there was a time in South Africa that people would put
flaming tyres around people's necks if they dissented. And in some
ways the fear is that you will be necklaced here, you will have a
flaming tyre of lack of patriotism put around your neck," he
said. "Now it is that fear that keeps journalists from asking the
toughest of the tough questions."
Rather did not exempt himself from the criticism, and said the problem
was self-censorship. "It starts with a feeling of patriotism
within oneself. It carries through with a certain knowledge that the
country as a whole - and for all the right reasons - felt and
continues to feel this surge of patriotism within themselves. And one
finds oneself saying: 'I know the right question, but you know what?
This is not exactly the right time to ask it.'"
Such a confession is astonishing, bearing in mind its source. Rather
is almost as famous in the US as the president, though he is more
secure in his tenure, far better paid and probably more pampered.
Rather, 70, has held what used to be regarded as the top job in
American journalism for two decades, since he was chosen to succeed
the revered and avuncular Walter Cronkite as CBS News's anchorman.
Traditionally, CBS was the country's No 1 news channel but has lost
its status and ratings after years of budget cutbacks.
The White House was to blame for its failure to provide adequate
information about the war, Rather said. "There has never been an
American war, small or large, in which access has been so limited as
"Limiting access, limiting information to cover the backsides of
those who are in charge of the war, is extremely dangerous and cannot
and should not be accepted. And I am sorry to say that, up to and
including the moment of this interview, that overwhelmingly it has
been accepted by the American people. And the current administration
revels in that, they relish that, and they take refuge in
He said his view of the
patriotism differed from that of the administration. "It's
unpatriotic not to stand up, look them in the eye, and ask the
questions they don't want to hear - they being those who have the
responsibility, the ultimate responsibility - of sending our sons and
daughters, our husbands, wives, our blood, to face