Press should continue watchdog role


This week, during a media conference, Dan Rather called out every American journalist. He didn’t cite any of the common gripes with journalists: didn’t label them as biased, uninformed or even request a correction on quotes.

Instead, Rather said American journalists are cowards.

“No one is fearless, but fear shouldn’t be in the DNA of an American journalist,” Rather said. “American journalism stands for clear-eyed, well-researched, know the facts, look ’em in the eye, ask ’em the tough question, don’t back down, don’t back away, just keep coming. That’s the kind of coverage the American public deserves.”

On Tuesday at the Politics 2008 Conference, Rather said American journalists had gone soft.

And this statement comes from a reputable source, not some crack-pot blogger. Unlike the figureheads issuing the majority of today’s bold statements, Rather’s got the résumé to back up the talk.

He anchored the “CBS Evening News” for 24 years, covered the Watergate scandal, the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan and ruffled the feathers of President George H. W. Bush to such an extent that he was never granted an interview with him or his son while either was in office.

And who’s to blame Rather for the outrage? In a year that’s seeing this country’s most desperate of times, it’s impossible to fathom that there aren’t hard-hitting and important stories. With the subprime mortgage crisis and subsequent bailout package, the war in Iraq and the most important election of our time on the horizon, it’s important for the United States. to be under the watchful eye of the media.

With journalism being the only industry mentioned in the constitution, it’s the duty of today’s journalists to live up to that lofty constitutional ideal of checks and balances. American journalists, including the staff of this college newspaper, are required to ask the questions that will lead us to important and well-reported stories, whether they are as simple as, “Explain the positive side of this issue?” or as difficult as, “Where has this administration gone wrong?”

It’s simple enough to skate along with stories about the good in the community, the nation or the world. What takes grit and determination is reporting the dark side, to dig deep and to do the right thing. Like life, it’s easier to not make waves, but it’s more rewarding to make a splash.

Journalism has taken a hit as of late, with massive numbers of veteran journalists being laid off because of financial concerns from their parent newspaper companies. And with the 10- and 20-year veterans being the first to go, the most experienced reporters are being replaced with underpaid, and often under qualified replacements.

The inexperienced newsroom could be a central reason for Rather’s proposed “cowardice.”

And this is a profession that remains one of the most important.

Today, America is at a historical crossroad. To ensure a positive future, Americans need brave journalists to light the path.

“To my fellow journalists in places where reporting the truth means risking all,” Rather said during his last sign off at CBS. “To each of you, courage.”