Friday, June 29, 2012

Rather Outspoken by Dan Rather & Digby Diehl

Part Of The Synopsis From Dust Jacket: 

For half a century, Dan Rather has covered the major news stories of our time:  the civil rights movement, the assassination of JFK, Vietnam, Watergate, 9-11, Iraq, Afghanistan, Abu Ghraib.  For 24 of those years, he was the network "face" of TV journalism as the anchor of the CBS Evening News.

At the end of his tenure, he became part of the news himself.  Now for the first time, Dan tells the real story of his final months at CBS, including his removal from the anchor chair in the wake of the controversy surrounding the story of George W. Bush and the Texas Air National Guard.  He also exposes the frantic and secret behind-the-scenes machinations that followed.  These clandestine maneuvers unmasked the "independence" of the investigation by the Thornburgh commission, revealing a News Division that had, Rather believes, temporarily abandoned its principles in order to enhance the bottom line of the parent company.

I was going to start this review off with the last paragraph, but after some more thought, I decided it wouldn't be a fair way to start things off.  Instead I'm going to admit why I wanted to read this particular book.  I think, like most people who have picked Rather Outspoken up, I was wanting to hear Dan Rather's account of what happened behind the story that brought an end to his career at CBS.  For that reason alone, I think this book is worth the read.

I was never one of those who thought Mr. Rather or his producers did anything wrong in their coverage of the story.  From everything I knew then, and know now, what happened to them felt like a raw deal.  Now that I've read the book, and understand everything that went on behind the scenes, I'm even more convinced that Mr. Rather paid a steep price for telling the truth.  His account of the way political and business pressure interfered in the way news was and is being told, scares the hell out of me.  It should scare everyone who cares about the public's right to know what our government does and how our corporations behave.  His story is not only an example of what can happen when things go wrong, but it's a call to arms.  It's a defense of the concept that journalism should be separated from politics and business considerations.  Sadly, I think it's a call to arms that has come just a bit too late.

I almost wish that this memoir only dealt with that one situation.  I would love to be able to divide that aspect from the rest of the book.  But I can't.  I have never gone into a memoir/biography with a higher opinion of the subject, than I had when I turned the last page.  It's been a fear I've had for years, so now that it's finally here, all I can say is that it made me sad. I hate the idea that I can read a book and come away with less respect for someone.  But less respect is what I'm left with.  I know it's hard for anyone writing a book about themselves to leave their ego out of it.  A good writer should be able to minimize the way that ego is expressed and how it will come across on the page.  I'm not sure what happened, but it seems as if the opposite took place.  Instead of the ego being minimized, it seems as if the ego was expanded and forced into every sentence.  I can't imagine someone in Mr. Rather's place wouldn't have a good sized ego, I just dont' want to be reminded of it on every page.  I'm positive that Mr. Rather is a terrific journalist, has covered stories in such a way that made a difference, and is an all around great guy.  I just don't want Mr. Rather telling me that himself.  Let it come across in the storytelling, not in the tonal voice of the narrative.

That ego got in the way of everything else for me.  It kept what should have been an informative read from being anything other than a justification of his life.  I don't think there is anything inherently wrong with that last concept, I just wish wish he would have been able to mesh the two ideas together in such a way that didn't leave me feeling cooler towards him.


Kathleen Sara Shattuck said...

Hi Ryan. Did he give you the feeling of "poor me"..."I got screwed over, and everyone is to blame except me?"

Pointing the finger shows off an insecure ego.....or did he tell you how wonderful he is by patting himself on the back?

Either way, redundancy in justifications is tiresome. I'm sorry this didn't hold water for you, but thanks for the effort and the review. :)

bermudaonion said...

Our news media has gotten carried away with themselves, haven't they? It's scary to think of the number of people who believe everything the media says.

Bob Barker's memoir left me the same way - I had less respect for him after I read it.

Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

I think I will pass on that one... thanks Ryan :)

Anonymous said...

You know I was tempted to read the last paragraph of your review first but I held back and read it in order :)

I'm sure you coming away with a poorer of opinion of him that when you started is not what he intended but an editor should have seen that side effect and had the courage to tell him, Hey, Dan, tone it down a little.

Staci said...

The EGO can really sidetrack a great story, can't it? I've known for a while that the media has been corrupted by big business, political parties, and the wealthiest people of the world (those that really control what is happening to all of us). It's sad and very very scary!