A book-PR company sent me a parenting book to review recently, and then emailed me again to ask if I'd like to get a review copy of Dan Rather's new book, Rather Outspoken: My Life in the News.
Of course, at first I said I couldn't do it, because I'm writing about parenting and fatherhood here, but then I couldn't help myself because I'm a fan and because I love behind-the-scenes stories about the media.
You know that new HBO show, The Newsroom? In the show, a news program attempts to do something radical: educate the public with important news, told with respect to the viewer's intelligence, using relevant experts for interviews, rather than partisan talking-heads. The experiment predictably gets a push-back from network executives who find it more business-wise to be less offensive and less direct. There are two sides to every story, after all, and neither should rock the mutually beneficial boat of cozy business-politics relationship.
It's a great drama about a fictional newsroom. But as Rather's book shows, this scenario was similar to his own account, and is poisonous to the important role of networks' news divisions. As long as boats aren't being rocked, the public is not being served. The win-win scenario, in other words, has a loser: the viewer.
It's a fascinating book about, among other things, growing up with the intent to do something important and to live up to ideals set up by heroes from previous generations (in Rather's case, Edward R. Murrow). It's also about fighting (and nearly failing because--as Rather shows--CBS has lost its way) to tell the story of the torture at Abu Ghraib, about the story that ended Rather's career at CBS, the "lost year" of George W. Bush while he was supposedly stationed with the National Guard during the Vietnam War, and about many of Rather's career and personal milestones.
Great book for fans of Rather as well as fans of the real-life drama that goes on between the time events occur and the time we find out about them on the news.