I caught up with Dan Rather today, who is still on the relentless path of the truth and power of the independent press. I always felt so-so about Dan but have come to love him through the eyes of my buddy, Fang.
I've always been more of a Tom Brokaw gal - might be a Dakota thing - but I have 'thing' for journalists in general. They are my people - fatally curious, painfully geeky and with a load of bad habits to make them pretty lovable. They are also mostly cynical and often, hilarious. (Extra points if they are Jewish and living in NYC. Double extra points if they work for NPR and have bushy eyebrows.)
Dan was on the Digg Stage to discuss freedom of the press and the death of a conscious media. Here are some quotes:
On bloggers and new media: "It's worth contemplating - there is no more independent newsroom than a newsroom of one."
"Citizen journalism offers an opportunity to punch through the vapid coverage we've seen ... better than so-called 'access journalism.'"
"This is no exaggeration - your country needs you."
"For the past few years, much of the press has been derelict in its duty; I do not except myself in that."
At this point I should point out that Dan was using notes but still did a bang-up job at connecting with his audience - making eye contact, gesticulating, emphasizing and driving home his point.
"What we have is a dangerous disconnect. An administration setting an overall narrative and a press that regurgitates it."
"There was no excuse for not covering what we should have covered. There was plenty of evidence in the independent press."
"We've been living in a watered-down state."
"Quality news starts with an owner with guts."
"I've been covering politics for over half a century - I covered the DNC in 1956 and let me tell you ... that what as changed the most is the character of media ownership."
Dan then talked about how only recently he has fully realized how much heat his bosses took on his behalf when he was covering Watergate, "...so I didn't have to. So I could get on with the task and do my job because it was important that the people knew what was going on, that they were informed."
"There's a lot of fear in newsrooms today."
"Too few voices homogenizing and marginalizing the news."
"The Internet MUST remain free."
As luck would have it, I was sitting in the front row (ah, the benefits of not being shy) next to the gal whose job it is to keep the program moving along. In her lap, she held big laminated cards that prompt speakers with directions - things like "1 more minute" and 'Take questions now" and so on.
She kept holding up a card that said, "Wrap It Up!" and I saw Dan read it and promptly, ignore it. Then, she gets out her Sharpie and adds a few exclamation points, to no avail. She tries a stern look and that doesn't work either. I want to tell her, "Lady, I think Dan Rather has faced ... um, tougher obstacles so ... I wouldn't hold my breath."