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[casi] Dan Rather speaks out

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   Press Release



Veteran CBS News Anchor Dan Rather speaks out on BBC Newsnight tonight

The veteran CBS News anchor and reporter Dan Rather has for the first
time attacked the climate of patriotism in the United States, saying
it's stopping journalists asking tough questions. In an exclusive
interview with BBC TWO's Newsnight tonight (Thursday 16 May), he admits
he has held back from taking the Bush administration to task over the
so-called war on terror.

Rather says: "It is an obscene comparison - you know I am not sure I
like it - but you know there was a time in South Africa that people
would put flaming tyres around people's necks if they dissented. And in
some ways the fear is that you will be necklaced here, you will have a
flaming tyre of lack of patriotism put around your neck. Now it is that
fear that keeps journalists from asking the toughest of the tough
questions, and to continue to bore in on the tough questions so often.
And again, I am humbled to say, I do not except myself from this

Rather admits self-censorship: "What we are talking about here - whether
one wants to recognise it or not, or call it by its proper name or not -
is a form of self-censorship. It starts with a feeling of patriotism
within oneself. It carries through with a certain knowledge that the
country as a whole - and for all the right reasons - felt and continues
to feel this surge of patriotism within themselves. And one finds
oneself saying: 'I know the right question, but you know what? This is
not exactly the right time to ask it'."

He tells Newsnight: "I worry that patriotism run amok will trample the
very values that the country seeks to defend... In a constitutional
republic, based on the principles of democracy such as ours, you simply
cannot sustain warfare without the people at large understanding why we
fight, how we fight, and have a sense of accountability to the very top."

He declares himself a patriot, but for him the essence of being American
is being able to bring the government to account: "It's unpatriotic not
to stand up, look them in the eye, and ask the questions they don't want
to hear - they being those who have the responsibility, the ultimate
responsibility in a society such as ours, of sending our sons and
daughters, our husbands, wives, our blood, to face death, to take death.
Now, in my position my view is not to ask the tough questions in this
kind of environment is the height of lack of patriotism."

Rather is also stinging about the lack of access and information the
Bush administration is giving news journalists over the war: "There has
never been an American war, small or large, in which access has been so
limited as this one.

"Limiting access, limiting information to cover the backsides of those
who are in charge of the war, is extremely dangerous and cannot and
should not be accepted. And I am sorry to say that up to and including
the moment of this interview, that overwhelmingly it has been accepted
by the American people. And the current administration revels in that,
they relish that, and they take refuge in that.

"What's being done practically in real terms is in direct variance with
the Pentagon's stated policy. The Pentagon stated policy is maximum
access and maximum information consistent with national security."

Rather is dismissive about the new trend in American television -
"militainment" - mass market reality shows about life in the military.
The Pentagon has given unprecedented access to RJ Cutler to make
Military Diaries for VH1, which airs later this month. It features
service men and women talking personally about the music they listen to
away from home, and includes exclusive footage of Operation Anaconda.

Rather says: "The belief runs so strong in both the political and
military leadership of the current war effort that those who control the
images will control public opinion. They realise what an
entertainment-oriented society ours has become. Therefore one way of
looking at it is quite natural, they would say to themselves: 'Hey,
we've had the Hollywoodisation of the news, we have had the
Hollywoodisation of almost everything else in society, why not the
Hollywoodisation of the war?'

"And I want to say quietly but as forcefully as I can that I hope this
doesn't go any further, it has gone too far already. I am appalled by
it, I do think it is an outrage, this is a personal opinion."

RJ Cutler - the maker of the Oscar-nominated documentary, The War Room,
on the 1992 Clinton campaign - responds: "I always think what we do is
more real than conventional news coverage. I think that journalism has
extraordinary merits and its place, but that the work of documentary
filmmakers is really to get to the core of something both more dramatic
and more human."

Other "militainment" TV shows include the upcoming Profiles From the
Frontline by Jerry Bruckheimer for ABC and the CBS drama documentary JAG
about life in the US Navy (which recently featured a military tribunal).
CBS has already aired - and pulled - the reality TV show American
Fighter Pilot.

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