Dan Rather speaks at DCOM-Regional Support dinner in Kabul
July 27, 2011
KABUL, Afghanistan -- One of America’s icons in broadcast journalism spoke at a dinner July 26 at Camp Eggers grabbing the attention of the audience as he did for years as a network anchorman.
Rather, who turns 80 Oct. 31, now works for the HDNet and hosts "Dan Rather Reports," a weekly one-hour show. He is in country for about a week to report on the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan, the challenges faced by NTM-A, and issues related to transition.
Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, commanding general of NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan/Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan, gave introductory remarks at the dinner. It was part of the three-day Regional Support Commanders Conference that began that day to serve as an orientation for the six new commanders that implement the NTM-A mission around Afghanistan.
“We’ve been very blessed to have Dan Rather with us tonight,” Caldwell said. “His name is synonymous with journalism.”
If journalism had a Mount Rushmore “his face would be on it,” he said.
Rather was anchorman of the CBS Evening News from 1981 to 2006. He also contributed to CBS's 60 Minutes.
After telling attendees of Rather’s numerous awards, Caldwell pointed out that Rather was in Afghanistan beginning in 1980 after the Soviet Union invaded it. He also noted Rather’s reporting during the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C.
Caldwell said Rather’s “calm, reassuring voice” provided factual reporting throughout the coverage of that day and the days that followed.
After receiving a standing ovation, Rather took the podium and immediately grabbed the crowd’s attention with a few jokes.
“I was a very poor speller,” Rather explained of his early years. “If we had spellchecker when I was coming up, I’d still be a newspaperman.”
Regarding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Rather said it was hard to judge public opinion at any given time, but the American public definitely supports the U.S. military.
As any war lasts longer and longer as in the case of Vietnam and current conflicts, it is natural for the public to ask questions like -- “is this the right war, right time, and is it too long?”
“You came for the rights reasons,” Rather said, because “we asked and because you love your country.”
Rather then talked about the relationship between the military and the press in a democratic-constitutional based country like the United States.
“We’re natural enemies,” he said, adding they shouldn’t be. Regardless of an ongoing evolving relationship, Rather said both make their mistakes but serve the nation.
“A free and independent press is the red-beating heart of freedom and democracy,” he said. Likewise, “the military is the most merit-based institution in American society.”
Rather said that his profession knows that the U.S. military is the “most effective fighting force in the history of mankind.” He added that western militaries in general are “most principled” and “most humane.”
Rather then discussed the Vietnam War regarding historical allegations that the American press lost the war.
“It wasn’t the press that lost the war,” Rather said, citing a couple of studies that came to that assessment, including one conducted by the U.S. military.
He said his “opinion” was that American public stopped supporting the war by 1968 when major casualties started coming home in every neighborhood across the country, and that political leadership couldn’t answer “What are we doing here? How do we know if we won?”
Rather concluded his presentation stating that the journalists haven’t explained things well enough regarding the differences between the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. He said there were major differences based on geography and cultures, and that Pakistan plays a key role in success in Afghanistan.
“The road to achievement leads to Pakistan,” he said.
Afterward, Rather fielded several questions ranging from how he was able to stay objective and keep his emotions in check during his reporting of the President John F. Kennedy assassination and the events of Sept. 11, 2001; the current fiscal debate amongst U.S. political leaders; and inspirational experiences in Vietnam.
Regarding Kennedy and 9/11, Rather said he couldn’t get emotional because that goes with being a professional. He added that because television is so instantaneous, his job was to tell the viewers what he knew as it was unfolding and what he didn’t know.
When it became clear what actually happened on 9/11, Rather said he thought: “This is terrible, this is awful. This is unbelievable.”
Like many in his profession, Rather said he experienced the same feelings that Americans felt on those two historic days about a week after they happened.
As for the budget, Rather said there now exists a possibility that an agreement may not be reached by Aug. 2.
“This business should’ve been handled a long time ago,” he said, adding that letting the deadline pass without an agreement would be “catastrophic.”
And finally, Rather said he was inspired by the “heroic” things the young Soldiers did “time after time” noting the average age of an infantryman was 19 in Vietnam, whereas in World War II it was 24.