On Wednesday’s “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” on Comedy Central, one-time CBS “Evening News” anchor Dan Rather said that allegations that the mainstream media reports news from a liberal perspective have been greatly overstated.
Rather, who is now with cable channel HDNet, had an unceremonious departure from CBS after a story he ran in 2004 that raised questions about President George W. Bush’s National Guard service turned out to be based on fraudulent documents.
That piece on the National Guard service is often used by conservatives as proof that the media skews left, but according to Rather, there’s nothing to those claims of bias within the newsroom. However, Rather did say that politicians have become more skillful in manipulating the television media.
“I think the politicians have outsmarted television,” Rather said. “Overall, I think television has added to everybody’s knowledge about almost everything. But like the Internet, which is now dominant in news or soon to be, it has its pluses and minuses. But each successive presidency, for example, has gotten smarter and smarter about how to manipulate the media, manipulate the press and use television to its advantage. There is also the trivialization of the news — you want to call the politicization of news now results in some networks just being partisan political propaganda.”
Stewart asked Rather about his experience with liberal bias within these newsrooms. Rather denied that such bias really exists, said that the perception comes from the worldview many journalists get early in their careers.
“It hasn’t been my experience,” he replied. “Most journalists I grew up with, most journalists I worked with and practiced with were trying to be honest brokers of information. Now, what sometimes got you a reputation of liberal, journalists generally form an apprenticeship covering the police beat at midnight, after midnight, on Saturday night, the charity hospital. Journalists, the best of then, do see a Dickensian side of society that most people don’t see. So when they try to call attention to that, people who don’t like it say, ‘Oh, you’re a liberal.’”
He also dismissed claims from conservative journalists who left those mainstream newsrooms and alleged liberal bias, saying it was just because they were disagreed with from time to time.
“But, it has not been my experience,” he continued. “I know what — it’s widely believed that CBS, NBC, ABC — chocked full of liberals. Not true. What it is chock full of is people who wanted to give honest news, straightforward news and voted both ways in many elections. I’m not saying that nobody in the newsroom was liberal any more than I would say nobody was conservative. Frequently what has happened is people who described as conservatives want to say, ‘I work at CBS News, and almost everybody there was liberal.’ What they really mean is not everybody there agreed with him all the time. This is a sham. It’s a camouflage.”
Rather added that he thought journalism today had lost its spine, and that some reporters have become too reluctant to ask figures in power tough questions.