Saturday, June 23, 2012

Rather Outspoken by Dan Rather

Book description:
This memoir by Dan Rather -- one of the most pre-eminent journalists of our time -- is told in a straightforward and conversational manner so that you hear his distinctive voice on every page. Rather, -- who has won every prestigious journalism award in his distinguished career -- discusses all the big stories from his decades of reporting. This very personal accounting includes (but is certainly not limited to) his dismissal from CBS, the Abu Ghraib story, the George W. Bush Air National Guard controversy, his coverage of the JFK assassination, the origin of "Hurricane Dan" as well as inside stories about all the top personalities Rather has either interviewed or worked with over his remarkable career. 

The book also includes Rather's thoughts and reflections on the state of journalism today and what he sees for its future, as well as never-before-revealed personal observations and commentary.

This book by one of the elder statesmen of American journalism is part memoir, part reflection, part ringing condemnation, and all Rather.  Opening with the events that led to his ouster from CBS News, Rather then reverts back to his childhood and his early interest in reporting the news, following that love of journalism from elementary school into college and beyond.  As Rather recounts the work of his early years at CBS (the civil rights movement, the Kennedy assassination, his time in Washington with LBJ and Nixon), it is clear this book is more a highlights reel than an in-depth professional memoir.  Regardless, the tidbits he shares are fascinating and simply whet the reader's appetite for more.  Eventually Rather returns to the topic of his departure from CBS, outlining his eventual decision to file suit against CBS to try to clear his reputation, and his subsequent work on HDNet.

I found the book a bit uneven as a reader.  The details of Rather's personal life were extremely interesting and I wish there had been more of them, especially about his family life once he was married and a father of two; it seemed from the book that his career always took precedence over his family but that may just be the result of trying to keep his private life private.  Either way, it is clear that his wife Jean was the solid base that made his career possible- it would have been wonderful to hear more of her voice and story carry through the narrative.  Rather's voice does ring through loud and clear, which is both a strength and the weakness in my opinion as that voice is sometimes strident and veers a bit toward self-congratulatory.  Rather is uncompromising in his belief that CBS sold out the Evening News, and he is happy to name names and apportion blame which may be understandable but also reeks a bit of bitterness- a bitterness that rather undermines his legitimate grievances with the organization.

Throughout this book one thing that is always front and center is Rather's deep and abiding passion for journalism and his clear belief that the press has a duty to ask the tough questions and to reveal the hidden truths.  His disdain for the corporate conglomerates that control the news today in the U.S. is well-founded as are his fears that we are in danger of losing the free press that our Founding Fathers viewed as so essential to safeguard our democracy.  After his many decades reporting the news, and his brief stint as the story itself, Rather is perfectly placed to assess the state of modern journalism; it is to his credit that he faces so unflinchingly the shortcomings of his own profession.

All in all, an engaging read by one of the most recognizable faces (and voices) of the era.

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