One of the highlights of the IRE conference was hearing Dan Rather give a talk. I got to the ballroom early and staked out a coupla seats so I could be within eye-level of Dan. He is a short guy! I'd heard that but was surprised to see him in person. He comes across as much taller.
Dan got choked up and teary a few times during the speech, especially after he got a standing ovation from the hundreds of journalists. I did not mind in the least that he got emotional. That is what makes him a good reporter and not a robot. Plus, he has gotten so much flak over the past few months that I am sure he appreciated the applause.
He was down to earth, his usual folksy self and interesting.
"I stand before you as a reporter who got lucky," he told the crowd.
I appreciated hearing that, since sooooooo many reporters at conferences like IRE can just be bloated and full of themselves.
"I also stand before you with some scars and self-inflicted wounds," Rather said.
He admitted he made some mistakes and hoped he has learned from them.
Investigative reporting is more addictive than crack, he said, but it can be VERY hard to get to the truth when powerful people don't want the truth to come out. Government oficials possess and use enormous power to manipulate the press, he said.
Reporters must be prepared to defend every part of the story. That is what he did with the CBS story about Bush's military record, he said. Although it soon came out that there were serious flaws with the story. He defended the story and his investigative team, he said, because he wanted to stand up for the people he worked with.
A war rages daily between "sensationalism and seriousness" in the American media, he said. "And sensationalism is winning."
What reporters do is enshrined in the First Amendment of the Constitution, he said, even though many Americans don't appreciate or understand that.
"Our calling is not to be liked, but to make a difference," he said.
Amen, Dan. And courage.
To read the transcript of his speech, click here: