The Port Arthur News
PORT ARTHUR —
The story of Dan Rather’s illustrious journalism career begins not in a newsroom, but on a football field.
Rather entered Sam Houston State Teachers College (now Sam Houston State University) in Huntsville on what he thought was a football scholarship. As Rather would soon learn, that scholarship was contingent on the week-to-week quality of his performance in the Saturday game.
“As it turned out, the football scholarship did not work out well for me,” Rather said, speaking to a crowd that filled the Carl Parker Multi-purpose Center, 1800 Lakeshore Drive, for Lamar State College-Port Arthur’s Fall 2013 Distinguished Lecture on Tuesday. “I thought that would be the end of my point in college.”
Rather confided in journalism professor Hugh Cunningham that he would likely have to withdraw from school without the aid of the athletic scholarship. Cunningham arranged a system of part-time jobs to keep Rather in college — one of which was at KSAM, the local, privately-owned radio station.
Since then, Rather’s name has become synonymous with American journalism. The former CBS Evening News anchor has stood on the frontlines of history, covering everything from the civil rights marches of the ‘60s, to President Richard Nixon’s fall from grace in the ‘70s, to the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, to every presidential campaign since Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952.
These days, Rather hosts “Dan Rather Reports,” a weekly one-hour news program on AXS TV. His 43-year career with CBS ended in 2006 after a disputed news report involving President George W. Bush’s service with the National Guard during the Vietnam War — a story that Rather maintained the veracity of in a press conference prior to the lecture.
“Some people thought that we got to the truth, but the process was faulty, and they succeeded in keeping the focus on the process,” Rather said. “Whatever one thinks or doesn’t think, we reported a true story.”
Rather voiced his concerns about the politicization and corporatization of modern news — a common criticism of the press. He did not except himself from that criticism, but alluded to a loss of “courage” — the word with which he ended every CBS broadcast for one week in September 1996.
“I’ve made my mistakes, I have my wounds — some of them still open wounds, some of them self inflicted,” Rather said. “I think we need a spine transplant, some courage to do quality journalism with integrity, and to see journalism in any form as a public trust.”
Even with those mistakes, Rather said he still feels blessed in his career.
“You’re looking at a reporter who got lucky,” he said. “I’ve been mightily blessed with some pretty big stories.”
Rather said it is always difficult for him to choose one story that stands out among the countless “big stories,” but that certain individuals such as Martin Luther King, Jr., had a lasting impact on him.
“Covering Dr. Martin Luther King and the early stages of the civil rights movement changed me as a person, and it changed me as a profession,” he said. “I learned so much from the story, and it remains a story with far-reaching consequences because it inspired such people as Nelson Mandela and others.”
Rather reiterated that his success can be attributed more to luck than his own journalistic cunning. He said that his epitaph will read, “He was a pretty good reporter who cared.”
“I want to be a great reporter,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve achieved that yet, but I’m still working full time trying.”