Review: Dan Rather

Dan Rather Keynote SXSWi 2007
Photo: Texas Amy on

Continuing my thoughts from last weeks SXSW trip, I want to talk about Dan Rather’s keynote interview on Monday Afternoon. I admit to being pretty soured by the trip by Monday afternoon, so perhaps my thoughts are a little skewed. Going into the address, I did find it massively ironic that bloggers were largely responsible for Dan Rather’s fall from grace at CBS, yet here he was talking to new media experts in a keynote speech. To be fair, not everyone at SXSW were bloggers but it has become increasingly difficult to find people that matter in the industry that don’t blog.

Within the first 30 seconds of the speech, I realized that this was not the same group of people that chased Memogate down. I’d even go as far to say that most did not really care much about real journalism. This was a hero in their eyes. An idol. A god. Hey, I have to give credit where credit was dfue – Dan Rather truly was a legendary journalist. Yet his credibility remains unexorably flawed due to Memogate.

With catchy strains of R.E.M.’s “What’s the Frequency Kenneth” (video clip) pulsing through the Hilton Ballroom, the congregated masses gave Rather the one and only standing ovation of the entire conference. I literally could sense the collective gasps of awe as he emerged on stage.

On a personal level, I admit being pretty impressed by the guy. He spoke of real journalism – of research and persistence; of tough questions and tough answers; of sources and drive. His words were the epitome of what real journalism is all about. However, the moderator for the event, Jane Hamsher, continually did NOT ask tough questions. It was really a love fest. An interview composed to make Rather look wonderful. The truth is that while Rather was pleading with reporters to ask tough questions, Hamsher was asking softball questions. It was really very bad form.

In my opinion, it’s easy to ask tough questions and still have utmost respect, love and admiration for someone.

All in all I was impressed with Dan Rather, but I was not enamored. He will always be tainted by Rathergate. He will always be the guy who defrauded the national public for political gain and maintained his quest for 12 long days despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. He will always be that guy. But that does not overshadow decades of quality reporting, nor does it diminish his quality as reporter in general.

Overall, I rate Rather Unremarkable with a strong thumbs up for his appearing at SXSW.

Listen to the whole interview here or the direct MP3 link.