Former CBS News anchor and reporter Dan Rather — who just turned 82 — will be in Kansas City Monday to speak as part of Rockhurst University’s Leadership Series. His remarks are set for 11:30 at the Downtown Marriott.
Last week Rather talked with The Star about his profession and his current projects. The exchange has been edited for clarity and length.
The Star: How would you describe the current state of American journalism?
Rather: As with so many aspects of American life, there’s been a rapid corporatization of the news business. This has happened in banking, it’s happened in hospitals, it’s happened in pharmaceuticals. It has reduced the number of what I consider to be really competitive national news organizations. This has led to a lot of problems.
Some say the opposite has happened — now everyone is an amateur journalist, through social media, blogs, limiting the influence of mainstream reporters and news organizations.
I’m aware of that counter-argument, and the day may come when that argument prevails. But I don’t think, up to and including now, you can make that argument.
Don’t misunderstand. I think the Internet is the future. I applaud the diversity of blogs and citizen reporters.
However, you used the word amateur. When you’re ill, you don’t want an amateur doctor. I would suggest on big, important investigative stories and international news, there’s a place for the citizen journalists, but not as replacements for people who have spent their lives trying to do quality journalism with integrity.
Have you reflected on how how the Kennedy assassination 50 years ago might be covered today?
A: What in life has not changed in 50 years? I say this with a knowing smile: In 1963 there were no cell phones. No hand-held cell phone cameras. None of that.
In reflecting on it, I do think many of the questions in peoples’ minds about the assassination would no doubt have been answered if everybody would have had a cell phone, or a cell phone camera or a laptop.
But there’s also a sense that cynicism about government explanations began with the Kennedy assassination.
I agree with that. Being skeptical of government is very much in the great American tradition, but being cynical about government is a different thing. Skepticism is largely healthy. Cynicism is to be avoided.
And media has fed into that. Cable TV, satellite, Internet news and all of that has contributed.
Are you enjoying your current work?
This is one of the best times of my professional life, mostly because I have total, absolute, complete editorial and creative control of what I’m doing. It’s the kind of freedom journalists dream about.
I’ve been to Kansas City many times. I remember meeting and watching George Brett early in his career, and thinking if he can keep this up, he may amount to something.
They said that about you, too.