Dan Rather on role of journalists

At 78 years old, Dan Rather is still reporting the news. With his 60 years in the business, he has had a lot of time to reflect on the role of journalists in society.

Speaking before a packed house at the University of Mississippi, Rather said “journalists must bear withess;” they must be “honest brokers of information.”

Rather was at Ole Miss to help dedicate the school as an historic site in journalism history. When James Meredith became the first black student enrolled in the university, riots broke out and French journalist Paul Guihard was killed. Rather was a reporter on campus that day.

“It became a hell hole … for a short period, this became a war zone,” Rather said.

He went on to describe how difficult it was to cover the civil rights movement at a time when CBS was sometimes referred to as the “Colored Broadcast System,” and it wasn’t unusual to see a hotel with a sign reading, “No reporters/no dogs allowed.”

Rather said in the midst of covering a controversial or difficult topic journalists just have to “get as close to the truth as you can.”

He reminded his listeners of Oscar Wilde’s assertion that “truth is rarely pure and never simple,” but he urged journalists to doggedly seek that truth.

“Any journalist worthy of the name must insist on being independent, fiercely independent,” Rather said.