Rather Sage Advice

A little bit of wisdom from an old hand

This semester I have been working with Truth Squad as part of my Annenberg Media Center shift. It’s forced me to look more critically at how news is shared on social media.

Two weeks ago, my mom suggested I follow the former anchor of CBS Evening News, Dan Rather, on Facebook after watching him on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. Rather appeared on the show to discuss his political activism on social media. Since the end of presidential campaign, Rather has used his Facebook page as a platform to post “thoughtful” political essays.

Rather, 85, says he was late to join Facebook, calling himself “old school.” He credits a group of young staffers at his production company, News & Guts, for encouraging him to use social media to share his opinions.

He told Fallon, “I was told, by the way, write no more than two paragraphs, but I said I’m gonna write my heart.”

In his introduction on his Facebook page, Rather writes, “The world is a better place when we have an open exchange of ideas.” Rather’s essays range anywhere from 100 to 500 words and have attracted lots of public attention, with posts receiving hundreds of thousands of likes, comments, and shares.

In his February 8th post, Rather addressed Senate Republicans vote to formally silence Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) for “impugning a peer.”

Rather began by writing, “Trying to silence speech can sometimes backfire on those seeking to suppress a message.”

Warren was silenced on the Senate floor last Tuesday while reading a letter written by Coretta Scott King, which criticized Senator Jeff Session’s (R-AL) record regarding the issue of civil rights. Warren’s condemnation of Session’s nomination for attorney general was not well received by her Republican counterparts.

Rather took to Facebook, proving social media’s large presence in today’s society and its power in disseminating information.

He wrote:

“This was an invocation of arcane Senate rules — but in these days of social media and a press keyed in to an unprecedented moment in our history, it was a scene destined to go viral. And it has.

This is a moment where the norms of politics, the tools of the press, and the mood of the public are twisting more than a Chubby Checker’s dance contest. Where we end up no one knows. And the rules are being made up as we goes. In the days of yore, Mr. McConnell’s actions would probably not have gained traction. But in the world of Facebook Live — not so much.”

In 2006, Rather left CBS after his reputation was tarnished by his controversial report on George W. Bush’s military service. The documents he used in that report were called into question and he was forced to apologize saying he “made a mistake in judgment.”

Rather now uses his Facebook page to voice his own opinion. His posts spark conversation about controversial, current issues.

Rather encourages journalists to keep fighting.

In a recent post, Rather reminds journalists to “Be skeptical but not cynical, dogged but not disrespectful, confrontational but not oppositional. Your job is to try to get to as close to a version of the truth as is humanly possible. Pull no punches. Do not succumb to fear or favor. Present what you have found to your readers, listeners, and viewers with context and perspective, and then let them draw their own conclusions.”

Over the past decade, social media morphed from something used to connect with friends to a source of news. I believe everyone is entitled to having his or her voice be heard. However, I realize today requires more thought when navigating social media.

It is important to be mindful of insight versus opinion. The status of the future of journalism requires everyone to be willing to search for the truth.