I read last week that Dan Rather is suing CBS news for $70 million, seeking retribution for the debacle following his story on Bush's military record that cost him his job just before election 2004.
You remember that story, right? The one where Rather's team acquired documents that indicated that our illustrious War President had received preferential treatment to avoid serving in Viet Nam during the war, and in fact had been allowed to duck out of the military without fulfilling all his obligations? The story that resulted in Rather's "Swift-boating" by nefarious factions of the Right Wing Media Noise Machine?
I was fascinated to discover, in reading about Rather's current lawsuit, that those documents that were deafeningly decried as forgeries by conservative bloggers (they claimed to have evidence that the type faces and fonts used on the documents did not exist in the military in the 1960's) were never actually proven to be anything but authentic. And that neither Bush nor his team ever denied the contents of the records.
More than anything, this story brought back memories of the Bad Old Days: those months in the wake of 9/11 when George W. Bush was allowed—no, not merely allowed…begged—to ride rough-shod over the American public's freedoms in the name of gathering us all, trembling and wetting ourselves—under his great, fearless, protective wings. Those were dark days, indeed; days when an ambiguous administration, and a man who struggled to attain mediocrity on his best days, were elevated to Knights of the Right and Protectors of All Things Sacred. Days when we traded our rights to privacy, due process, dissent and a free press for a security to which citizens of a free nation should never condescend to aspire.
But that was years ago, wasn't it? The Bush Administration is gasping its last breath, and Barack Obama is waiting in the wings to take over and initiate course corrections to our ship of state. Right? So why is Dan Rather suing now? Why keep beating a dead horse? Why not just…get over it?
I don't know. Bleeding-heart liberal that I am, I was never a Dan Rather fan. Sure, we share many of the same political opinions…but that's the point. Opinions do not have a place behind the anchor desk. At least, they didn't twenty-five years ago. I was never comfortable with the in-your-face liberal slant with which Rather branded his "news" broadcasts. Invariably, I could watch him for about five minutes before I would tune him out in disgust. He always came off as way too "holier than thou." "Just report the news, Dan," I would chide him in my mind. "Don't tell me how to think about it."
Little did I know then that Rather was blazing the trail of the future of journalism. The future where the boundaries between news and editorialism completely evaporated; the future where the public would be bombarded with so much skewed and often contradicting "information," put out there by factions with varying agendas, that they would ultimately be forced to choose a reality.
That future that is NOW.
So, it is true that, in some respects, Rather was hoist on his own petard. He was one of the original polluters of the information stream; eventually, he was forced to drink his own poison. I feel bad for him; I think he got a raw deal. And I think he wants vindication. And if he can get it, though it's too late for it to free us from one more minute of Bush Administration bungling, I think he deserves it.
But more importantly, we as a nation need to watch Dan Rather reopen this can of worms. We need to be reminded of where we were four short years ago. Remember when the president was so revered, almost sanctified, that any whisper of negative press about him was called un-American and punished as severely as law—or society outside the law—would tolerate? Remember when you refrained from voicing political opinions at your local watering hole, lest you meet with some embarrassing or violent incident? Remember when you were afraid that a petty fight with a neighbor might result in him imagining a terrorist plot and ratting you out to the FBI? Remember when one of the nation's pre-eminent journalists was discredited, disgraced, and ridden out of town on a rail on the basis of a story that was, in all likelihood, true?
Remember not feeling very free in the land of the free and home of the brave?
We absolutely need to remember these things. Because we absolutely need to make sure they never happen again.