Trust is a key factor when a reporter delivers the news to millions of Americans across the country. This trust is established through professionalism, accuracy, sincerity and consistent presence. Perhaps the most trusted newsmen in our nation’s history include Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw, who for years have kept Americans informed. After anchoring the evening news for CBS and NBC, respectively, for over 20 years, Rather and Brokaw are stepping down, thus beginning a new generation of broadcasters.
Brokaw’s departure from the NBC Nightly News was known for over two years, and Brian Williams finally took over his position yesterday. Rather’s Nov. 23 decision, however, comes as a surprise. Rather said his decision was independent of the controversial events surrounding forged documents regarding President Bush’s National Guard record that were broadcast on the Sept. 8 episode of 60 Minutes II.
The broadcast botch put CBS News’ accuracy and credibility under scrutiny, as well as Rather’s reputation.
In the following weeks, many questioned whether he would, or should, be terminated. Nothing came of it except numerous apologies on behalf of the anchor and heads of CBS News.
Because of the firestorm of controversy sparked by the false documents, Rather’s departure from his position as anchorman and managing editor of CBS Evening News is embarrassingly apparent. The timing of Rather’s first career-jeopardizing incident during his 42-years at CBS and his decision to step down is too much of a coincidence, and the public should not be fooled by his false pretense. His resignation must be linked to the faulty documents; whether it was his decision to step down or mandated by heads of CBS, we will never know.
If Rather’s resignation truly is the result of the document fraud incident, then it is surely not required. Unfortunate events occur in every profession, including journalism, and the apt response should be proportionate to the magnitude of the incident. The network appropriately apologized, as did Rather. Because of it, CBS and other networks will undoubtedly improve their policy on fact-checking sources. Rather’s removal from the position of anchorman is not necessary.
To those that believe the 73-year-old anchor’s removal was needed, valid arguments do exist. However, even if they are correct, the time in which this action comes is not prudent. The United States is in the middle of a war while President Bush is on the eve of his second term. Our nation’s future is as uncertain as it has ever been; the American people look to anchormen such as Rather, Brokaw and Peter Jennings of ABC to deliver the current events that will ultimately affect their lives. Now, of all times, is not the time to introduce the public to new faces and personalities.
Brokaw, however, was conscious of timing his departure around current events, as he saw it fit to step down after this year’s general election had concluded. Yet, given Brokaw’s age of 64, there was no urgency to retire in such polemical times.
With Brokaw gone and Rather leaving March 9, a new generation of broadcasters is going to be ushered in. This is a significant event for Americans, as these journalists enter their living rooms every night to convey to them information of the world. With new personalities, new trust must be built. That level of trust is not easy to attain, as not all journalists can become as trusted as Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite and the two aforementioned broadcasters; men who have guided our country through some of its darkest times.
The trust of Brokaw and Rather is already established with the American people; they can be looked to as familiar faces to deliver the developments of the Iraq war, among other important events. It is undeniable that some feel Rather’s credibility has suffered due to the fake documents controversy; however, his face and personality is more familiar to the public than that of his possible replacements.
Brokaw and Rather’s replacements will be at the forefront in reporting all significant events that will occur in America’s future and they will be relied upon by citizens as a viable news source. The American people will associate their faces with those incidents and remember them for years to come.
If they hope to match the success and trust that Rather and Brokaw had with the American people, they must be on the cutting edge of every major news event, build a strong on-air connection, and make sure to thoroughly fact-check their sources … over and over again.
Jesse North can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.