When I was a little boy, I wanted to be like Dan Rather. In my ADHD childhood, he was my “Bob Ross” for television. I would stop and listen to what he said as if he were talking directly to me. I learned much from watching Dan Rather. He was and still is a brave and courageous interviewer. When I was provided an honor in writing for a college newspaper, I tried to write in the spirit of Rather. I wanted to pull the curtain back further to show all angles to an issue. That was the level of transparency I sought even if it brought scorn or unfounded actions upon me. Today I read an essay that Rather submitted to the New York Times. I wanted to share it on my blog because it should be a warning to anyone that respects the journalistic code and freedom of information our nation relies on.
As the administration of Donald Trump starts to take shape in Washington, I find myself thinking back again of that historic city and where we may be headed.
It is no accident that our monuments and institutions of government in our nation’s capital are made out of marble. They are cathedrals to our democracy – impressive, imposing, and built to last. They are also beacons to our improbable aspirations. When our predecessors planned and constructed these buildings, our republic was still quite young. It still is, by the measure of most societies on earth. The old saying may remind us that Rome wasn’t built in a day, but much of Washington D.C. was built over the course of a few decades.
Rome is a provocative comparison because the remnants of that ancient society remain standing centuries after the empire that built them crumbled and died. For while buildings are important, the heart of a nation lies with its people. Marble may last but the strength of a society must be constantly reinforced.
For the years I lived in Washington, and ever since on return visits, I have loved walking amongst the city’s wide boulevards and past its famous addresses. And yet covering the men and women who wielded power from their marble perches is to be reminded that as permanent as our nation can seem, we can never take its future for granted. The strength of our institutions lie within us, and our representatives.
I have seen this nation’s spirit of self evidence challenged in the past, with World War II, the Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam, and Watergate, just to name a few. Some of these struggles were largely foreign in origin, others sprouted from our own imperfections.
I believe that we are once again at an inflection point. This presidential election, with its bitter partisan divide and often irresponsible rhetoric, threatens to crumble some of the foundations of our democratic institutions. We now await to see whether the president-elect’s actions will match his words. We cannot simply slough off these worries with incantations that everything will work out. The dictionary lists “democracy” as a noun, but because it requires action to be, I like to think of it more as a verb.
We should not expect or even hope to agree on policy or priorities. Fostering healthy and respectful debate is one of the strengths of our system of government. But when we seek to undermine our political adversaries by attacking their right to participate in our national discourse we risk causing longterm harm to the rationale behind the nation we all claim to love.
And the marble of Washington might cease to be cathedrals to democracy and more like mausoleums. Anyone who considers himself or herself a true patriot cannot allow us to head down this dangerous path. It is in our hands to demand that we re-water the seeds of our highest national morals and ideals.
There is no denying that the media is embroiled in controversy these days. Donald Trump made so-called media bias one of the biggest themes of his campaign. Now, judging by the President-Elect’s refusal to allow journalists to travel with him to DC for his meeting with President Obama, it looks like his “relationship” with the press hasn’t changed yet. With that in mind news organizations are no doubt scrambling to come up with plans on how to cover Trump’s time in the White House.
Today, in a rather unusual move, the publisher of the The New York Times directly addressed readers to defend the way the paper covered the election (and both campaigns). In a separate note sent to staffers he addressed their coverage of the Trump administration going forward.
Dan Rather – published November 11th, 2016