“A free, a truly free and independent, fiercely independent press, when necessary, is the red beating heart of freedom and democracy.”
As the anchor of the CBS Evening News for 24 years, Dan Rather was a face of that fiercely independent press. Today, the 86-year-old who is wildly popular with millennials keeps going by sharing his reporting and views on his “News and Guts” website. Twelve years after Rather left his post in 2005, the press is coming under constant and withering attack, even called an “enemy of the American people” by President Trump. “It’s vital to the country to understand that this has to be unacceptable,” Rather told me in the latest episode of “Cape Up,” which is an edited and shortened replay of an event we did together last month in Washington.
Rather and I came together on Nov. 9 for an event put on by Politics and Prose Bookstore at the Lisner Auditorium on the campus of George Washington University. The legendary journalist co-wrote with Elliot Kirschner “What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism,” a collection of essays on various related topics, including the press, books, public education and science.
One chapter is on dissent. When I asked Rather about the criticism of NFL players taking a knee and Black Lives Matter demonstrators, Rather reminded the crowd that “the radical of yesterday was the prophet of tomorrow.” And he had stern words for those questioning the patriotism of protesters. “This effort to shift the public perception of these dissenters as unpatriotic and against the military and against the flag is frankly unconscionable,” Rather said. “That’s what’s unpatriotic.”
Nowhere in Rather’s book does Trump’s name appear. Yet his presence is felt, especially in the chapter on empathy. On Page 103, Rather writes, “One often finds the greatest lack of empathy in those who were born lucky.” Responding to my recitation of the line, he said to laughter, “Well, I think it’s very clear who I’m talking about.” He added that empathy “is a hallmark of our history, a hallmark of our character. There has been an attempt to sort of squeeze it out of our national character, but it isn’t going to work.”
Listen to the podcast to hear Rather discuss the difference between empathy and compassion, patriotism and nationalism, and what he thinks is the responsibility of congressional Republicans in the age of Trump.
“History is going to judge, very harshly, those Republicans who continue to, by their silence, acquiesce in the tone and tenor of this presidency,” Rather said, noting that this was neither meant to be nor intended to be a partisan statement. “Because they’re in the majority, the Republicans have the heaviest responsibility to speak out when their conscience whispers to them that they should.”