Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Standing By Dan Rather

I mean in the literal sense, as in Dan and I on the Charles Bridge in Prague at midnight. Sounds like a John LeCarre plot twist, but here we are ten years later and no one’s standing by Dan, as he twists in the wind rather than the plot. Be sure what you say is true, Dan. No matter the distortions and outright lies that buzz about our faces on a daily basis like flies in a cow pasture, when you’re the main man and you make that red-light-to-viewer eye contact, it better not be a seventies document written on Microsoft Word.


We’re unforgiving about those things, Dan. We’ll forgive our president a forged document here or there to get us in a war, but he’s just our president. You’re supposed to be made of sterner stuff, Dan and although it’s a heavy load to carry, we hold our network news anchors to a higher standard. The gentlemanly thing would be to resign. Even Nixon knew that. Besides, it’s been a long and successful road and everybody (except Mike Wallace) has to eventually hang up their tack.


The President just this week stood before the United Nations and declared that Iraq was on the road to freedom and democracy, while the evidence on a daily basis is unrelentingly grim. Two Americans knelt this same week, beheaded in Iraq. He is allowed this. No one called out from his audience and declared him a liar. No one will demand that even his speechwriters be held to account for this enormous chasm between fact and fiction. We’re on our way to re-electing Bush and trashing Dan over misrepresentations as disparate as telling a fib and killing your neighbor. And for those of you who feel “killing your neighbor” is too wild and unfair a comparison, I would remind you that, if our president is wrong-headed and if we suffer further attacks spawned by that wrong-headedness, then killing your neighbor will turn out to be far too pale a metaphor.


No one’s going to die for Dan Rather’s wrong-headedness.


Back to the Charles Bridge. It was 1994 and Bill Clinton was in town, Prague was a hot destination anyway and Dan Rather was doing his 6pm New York news live and ‘live’ over here meant six hours later, midnight. The shot was set up to background Rather by a portion of the bridge and the Prague Castle looming behind. The way they accomplished this intrigued me. The centuries-old statues along the bridge had been carefully lighted and the camera and Rather-lighting equipment was sheltered in a tent. Thus, Dan faced this tented equipment and gave his script-perfect report as though he was casually standing alone on this lovely European bridge. After his report, he joshed with technicians as they dismantled the site and then faded into the night. He seemed to be well liked by the worker-bees and I was impressed by that. My “Dan Rather moment” passed without a word between us.


Yet it was play-acting on a lighted set, as is our nightly news on a nightly basis, as are our lives on increasing levels, as are our politicians to an unparalleled degree and one can but wonder where it all ends, if not in chaos. A primary definition of chaos is “a state of things in which chance is supreme.”


You can make a pretty good case that we’re there.