Dan Rather at Powell Hall

This article is the published version of a review submitted to the Bascom Honors Program at Maryville University.

There are people in the world, and there are legends. Every field, I believe, has one of these figures who can show the rest of us how it is done. When that field is brought up, that one person always comes to mind. There is no doubt that for many of us who grew up from the 1960s to the 1990s that when journalism is brought up, Dan Rather is the name that comes to mind. So, having been raised on Rather’s brand of journalism one can imagine my excitement at the chance to see the man in person.

Rather began the evening by a humbling statement that he “is a reporter first and foremost, but by no means [is he] an expert on anything.” His story begins as one of humble beginnings, though he joked with it consistently throughout the evening: educated and raised in Huntsville, Texas, the county of which believed the “best achievement they had was that there had never been an intellectual in Walker County.” He also indicated that his start in any form of communication was at a small local radio station, where he had some interesting and humorous interactions with the station owner who was also a preacher.

One of his pieces of wisdom that he shared that evening was that in his years of interviewing leaders around the world, he discovered that many of them have forgiving hearts. He elaborated stating that many leaders, even dictators think more with their hearts than their minds. Safe to say, that likely saved him a time or two, particularly during his one-on-one interview with Saddam Hussein.

Rather listed a roll-call of influential people that he had met in his career, which is enough to make anyone feel light headed. He started with Martin Luther King, who he described as thankful to live another day with incredible courage. He also described King as “quiet at the center”, during chaotic moments. The next that he mentioned was Mother Theresa, and challenged anyone to be the presence of such a lady and not feel moved. The third was Nelson Mandela who Rather described as having a “unique ability to absorb punishment” and “rise above everyone to move his country forward.” He also admired Mandela’s ability to change from the historical violent person he was, to a peaceful negotiator.

Rather almost obligatorily mentioned three American presidents as well, the first of these was President Eisenhower. He stated that while Eisenhower was not necessarily a flashy president, that he was incredibly accomplished. He also said that Eisenhower had an unusual ability to find common ground with everyone and admired his ability to do so.

John F. Kennedy was the second president that Rather mentioned. He commented on the massive accomplishments of Kennedy and how the public seems to dwell on what could have been. He also supported that Kennedy was the first real television president that the camera didn’t hate. The last of the presidents that Rather mentioned was Lyndon Johnson who he said was “great for domestic policy.” He postulated that the Civil Rights policies are staggering and what should be remembered despite Vietnam.

Rather also discussed foreign policy at great lengths, including the growing tensions in Asia and in Europe. He feels that another Cold War could be imminent along with a second rise of the Soviet Union.   Along with a few recommendations for reading, he pointed out the three major hotspots for the potential of another World War: Iran, China, and Ukraine.

I’m sad to say, that most of the evening I had my face down and writing notes for this lecture. Rather delivered a speech that I would only expect from him. It was informative, fascinating, entertaining, and pleasant. He touched on issues that the public was interested in, he kept drawing the less informed back in, and he did it naturally. Thank you Mr. Rather, for your years of journalism and your fantastic lecture.

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