media cowed by patriotic fever, says CBS star
news veteran admits national mood caused him to shrink from
tough questions on war in Afghanistan
Engel in Washington
Friday May 17, 2002
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
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
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 Pentagon.
"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."
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.'"
Rather, CBS News
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
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.
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 this one.
"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 that."
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 death."