Dan Rather: Latest Target of the Culture Wars

by Larry Everest

Revolutionary Worker #1254, October 10, 2004, posted at http://rwor.org

The CBS/Dan Rather flap says a lot about how extreme the right-wing Bush agenda is, about its dominance in the U.S. ruling class, and about where things are being taken in this country.

In mid-September, CBS News anchor Dan Rather reported that new documents had surfaced showing that now- President George W. Bush was given preferential treatment in the early 1970s because of his father's political connections. The young Bush avoided the dangers of combat in Vietnam and could basically show up for Alabama National Guard assignments whenever he felt like it.

This was not, to be clear, any exposure of the many real crimes against humanity committed by the Bush regime. Rather was playing his part in the current reactionary political contest over Vietnam war "service"-- where killing Vietnamese in an unjust war is portrayed as "serving your country honorably" and where acts avoiding that unjust war are treated as somehow inherently "dishonorable."

And Dan Rather was not exposing something new: The story of Bush's privilege and absenteeism have been repeatedly documented since it was first exposed in 2000 by the Boston Globe . The substance of the CBS story had been verified by people in Bush's Guard unit at the time.

However, it turned out that the document used by Rather and CBS to underpin their story may have been faked. And, supposedly, the source for that document had connections to the Kerry campaign.

As this came out, a huge frenzy broke out, spearheaded by right-wing attack dogs. CBS and Rather were forced to apologize and retract their story. 60 Minutes was forced to cancel a segment on it. And CBS was forced to launch a major investigation into the error. There were loud calls for the firing of Dan Rather, a 30-year veteran of television news and a virtual institution within the U.S. media. As a result, Rather himself may be forced out in disgrace or "early retirement."

Rather's minor error in a fairly minor criticism of the current commander-in-chief was treated as a massive scandal. In the bourgeois media world of lies and lying liars, why did a relatively minor error generate such heat?

A very revealing Wall Street Journal editorial let the right-wing cat out of the bag:

... the flap over CBS and those National Guard "memos" turns out, the past few weeks mark a milestone in U.S. media and politics. Along with the Swift Boat Veterans' ads [right-wing ads attacking Kerry's claim of heroism in Vietnam], the widespread challenge to Dan Rather's reporting--to his credibility--means that the liberal media establishment has ceased to set the U.S. political agenda.

("Review & Outlook--Media Watershed," September 16, 2004)

So, Rather's stumble is not just being used to take him down. It is openly being suggested that this incident could mark a huge turning point in the history of the U.S. media -- a tightening of the screws on journalists, a shift rightward in the political complexion of the media, and a leap toward the growing dominance of right-wing politics within the country's news media. No questions are to be asked or tolerated.

The last years have seen the rise of an openly pro-Republican and highly partisan cable news station, Fox News. At Fox, correspondents receive daily marching orders on how to spin events from a right-wing, pro-Bush regime viewpoint. Now, the Rather scandal is used as an opening to press for the "Fox-ification" of the entire media--a sinister "new normalcy" on the journalistic front.

The attack on Dan Rather has been described as a "public lynching" by many forces. And the comparison is valid in at least this sense: like real-life lynchings, it is designed to instill fear, caution, and even more obedience. In this case, the target is journalists and editors--but it will have a chilling effect more broadly among intellectuals, artists, writers, poets, professors, as well as the basic people.

The intensity of this Dan Rather scandal sent an obvious message: touch one hair on the commander-in-chief and the fangs come out. If someone as established and powerful as Dan Rather can be crucified for a minor error, then, people are supposed to ask themselves, what can they do to the rest of us!?

These moves in the media must be seen in the context of the overall global agenda being pursued by the U.S. imperialists--now spearheaded and directed by the Bush team. In the name of September 11, the "war on terror," and "keeping Americans safe," these predators have launched a war on the world for greater empire--an enormously ambitious and risky effort to extend U.S. global dominance for decades to come.

The dominant forces in the ruling class believe that victory in this war is impossible unless the current ruling group seizes and maintains permanent political dominance at home--including by reshaping this country's politics, culture and intellectual life in unprecedented ways. The right-wing has been openly waging a "culture war" for decades against progressive, liberal, secular, scientific, and even just plain enlightened thinking. And now, in the wake of 9/11, they are seeking to win some decisive victories and push through takeovers of whole spheres of society.

As Bob Avakian summed up about the moves unleashed after September 11: "Things are bound to be vastly different... the America we have known will not exist in the same way anymore." ("The New Situation and the Great Challenges," rwor.org)

When Old School Loyalty, Lying, Parroting, and Forging Are No Longer Enough

"George Bush is the president, he makes the decisions, and, you know, as just one American: He wants me to line up? Just tell me where.... Whatever arguments one may or may not have had with George Bush the Younger before September 11, he is our commander-in-chief, he's the Man now. And we need unity, we need steadiness. I'm not preaching about it. We all know this."

Dan Rather, CBS News anchor, speaking to his American TV audience, September 18, 2001

"It's an obscene comparison, but there was a time in South Africa when people would put flaming tires around people's necks if they dissented. In some ways, the fear is that you will be necklaced here. You will have a flaming tire of lack of patriotism put around your neck."

Dan Rather, CBS News Anchor speaking to a British audience, BBC, June 6, 2002

Dan Rather, the legendary poster boy for the supposed "liberal media" is no opponent of this system. He, like Peter Jennings, or Tom Brokaw or the other prominent figures in media news are loyal, hardcore elements of the imperialist system. Rather in particular has repeatedly clashed with presidents-- including Nixon and Bush the Elder. But like virtually the whole rest of the media (and the political establishment) he and CBS News repeated and upheld the lies used to justify the conquest of Iraq. Night after night, the government's outrageous accusations of "growing danger" and "weapons of mass destruction" were treated as facts.

Has the media presented forged documents to the public before?

What about the forged documents Bush relied on in 2003 to charge Iraq with buying uranium from Niger?

Or every shred of "documentation" that Secretary of State Colin Powell used during his February 2003 presentation at the United Nations--when he justified war by pointing to satellite photos of supposed "biological labs," and used fabricated transcripts of Iraqi officers talking about WMD?

Yet all this media reporting of falsified documentation was treated as irrelevant. And there has been no official outrage, no scandal, no shamefaced apologies, and certainly no calls for heads to roll over these abundantly documented lies--which, after all led to the invasion and conquest of a sovereign country and the subsequent killing of thousands of Iraqis.

The issue at hand is making the media--which is already cowed, defensive,and firmly on board with the overall imperial global agenda--even more subservient, and further narrowing any room for questioning or dissent, of even the most mild and loyal kind.

This right-wing transformation of the media has been years in the making. The Wall Street Journal writes: "In 1987 the Reagan Administration abolished the so-called Fairness Doctrine, whose main effect had been to stifle controversy on the airwaves by threatening stations with the obligation to provide equal time. The result was an explosion in political talk radio, led by Rush Limbaugh, who filled an unmet demand for right-leaning commentary. Then, in 1996, Rupert Murdoch launched Fox News Channel, providing a `fair and balanced' alternative to CNN and the broadcast networks. By 2001 Fox had surpassed its competitors to become the top-rated cable news channel.

The attack on Rather underscores the seriousness of the "culture war" launched and waged throughout the society--in the spheres of politics, culture, art, religion, education and more. And the comments of the Wall Street Journal editorial page underscore how consciously this right-wing offensive actually intends to win dominance, to permanently change U.S. culture, to narrow the range of acceptable ideas and to impose the most extreme and reactionary standards as the norm.

Everyone knows that if you cross these guys, they turn loose the attack dogs. And many people have a sickening sense of what they want to impose on society.

While it is crucial to grasp just how extreme and serious the situation is, it is equally crucial to grasp the fact that the imperialists' wildly aggressive and nakedly reactionary, fascistic moves can boomerang on them in very profound ways.

On the media front, for example, the blatantly propagandistic character of news coverage in the empire today has led to growing disillusionment with the established media and a search for "alternative information." And these developments have raised profound questions among millions of people about what the system is about and where it is heading--and prompted them to search for--or be open to--other analyses and alternatives.

It is urgent that the all-the-way revolutionary communist perspective, and in particular the voice and leadership of Bob Avakian, be made available to these millions upon millions seeking truth and a way out of this madness.