Dan Rather is Rather Biased

Julie Pannier


Abstract:  Newscaster Dan Rather of CBS Evening News allows his own opinions to slip into his newscasts and has, during his career, reported erroneous new stories.  Some examples of his less than ideal performances as a newscaster include his reports of Fidel Castro in 2000, President Bush’s tax cuts in 2003, and the Afghanistan Coverage during the 1980s.  Rather also appeared as the guest speaker at a Democratic Party Fundraiser. 




            Dan Rather, anchor of CBS Evening News and host of 48 Hours and 60 Minutes II, is a face recognized across the United States of America.  Many people have come to trust and depend on Rather for their nightly news.  After all, he has been the news anchor of CBS Evening News since 1981.  And it’s not only Rather’s longevity that has built up his credibility, but he also has a reputation for reporting “hard news,” which means that he reports more government and foreign affairs news than celebrity news (Stoehr and Zurawik 38).  Rather also strives to report correct facts, which he especially tried to do during the September 11 terrorist attacks.  He explains, “I was trying to present the viewers with three things:  what we knew; what we did not know-the questions we had no answers for yet; and those things we thought were true but had not been confirmed” (Mundy [3]). 

But these aren’t the only reasons that viewers tune to Rather’s news program.  Among other things, Rather is “folksy” with a “down-home” appeal (Hickey [2]).  Rather often uses similes and metaphors that he attributes to his Texas upbringing.  For example, while reporting on the 2000 Presidential Election, Rather declared that, “the race is as tight as a too-small bathing suit on a too-hot car ride back from the beach” (Mundy [4]).  In fact, Tom Shales, the Pulitzer Prize-winning critic for The Washington Post, states, “If it looks like the world is coming to an end, I want Dan Rather to be the one to break it to me” (Mundy [2]).  Why?  Because Dan Rather has a connection with his audience. 

But despite his popularity and reputation as an anchorman, Dan Rather is not the ideal newscaster.  Not only does he allow some of his own opinions to slip into his newscasts, but throughout his 23-year career, Rather has also (intentionally or unintentionally) reported erroneous news stories. 

Although it is obvious why reporting erroneous news stories is problematic, it is not always as obvious why reporting news with a biased slant is troublesome.  A reporter is supposed to inform the viewer by presenting a balanced story.  It is often through television reporters that the 30 million Americans who watch television news learn and understand what is happening in the world today.  It is also the main resource they use to form opinions on issues.  Reporters must present an unbiased news report so that each American can decide for himself or herself the stance that he or she will take on an issue.  Reporters should present all of the facts to the viewer, not just one side of an issue.

According to Alicia Mundy in her MediaWeek article, “For three decades, Dan Rather’s been the newsman most despised by the right and by Republicans” ([2]).  It should come as no surprise then that the conservative media watchdog Media Research Center has cited numerous accounts where Dan Rather has used his own opinions and liberal bias when reporting the news.  For example, on April 22, 2000, Rather stated during his live coverage of the Elian raid:

While Fidel Castro, and certainly justified on his record, is widely criticized for a lot of things, there is no question that Castro feels a very deep and abiding connection to those Cubans who are still in Cuba and, I recognize this might be controversial, but there’s little doubt in my mind that Fidel Castro was sincere when he said, “Listen, we really want this child back here.” ([Dan Rather’s 6]) 

In this instance, Rather doesn’t just present the facts of the story, he states his opinion that “Fidel Castro was sincere.”  Rather tries to convince viewers to believe what Castro said, which could actually be a lie.

            On the May 13, 2003 edition of CBS Evening News, Rather reports:

The President calls the tax cut necessary. Democrats call it a campaign for the wealthy. So far, it’s a problematic sell for the President. In a CBS News/New York Times poll out tonight, less than half the respondents thought the Bush tax cut would actually help the economy. (Dan Rather’s [1]) 

But according to the Media Research Center’s article “Dan Rather’s Liberal Bias,” “Rather failed to report that the poll he cited showed twice as many said tax cuts would help the economy (41 percent) than said new tax cuts would hurt (19 percent)” ([1]).  This time, Rather’s bias was one of omission.  He didn’t report the entire poll.  He just reported the part that made the tax cuts appear “problematic.”

            And on August 17, 2000 Dan Rather informed viewers of CBS Evening News:

Al Gore must stand and deliver here tonight as the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee, and now Gore must do so against the backdrop of a potentially damaging, carefully orchestrated story leak about President Clinton. The story is that the Republican-backed special prosecutor, Robert Ray, Ken Starr’s successor, has a new grand jury looking into possible criminal charges against the President growing out of Mr. Clinton’s sex life. (Dan Rather’s [6])           

But according to an article in Human Events, “Despite misleading statements by major Democratic politicians and media figures such as Dan Rather, it was not a Republican who leaked the news on the last day of the Democratic National Convention that a new grand jury is investigating President Clinton.  Nor, as Dan Rather implied, is Independent Counsel Robert Ray a Republican” (D’Agostino 5). “Apparently it was a Carter-appointed federal judge who inadvertently leaked the news” (Dan Rather’s [6]).  This news story proves that not only was Rather inaccurate in his reporting, but he also biasedly implied that the Republicans “carefully orchestrated” a “story leak” that was damaging to President Clinton. 

According to Extra!, the liberal watchdog Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting’s magazine publication, CBS, and more specifically Dan Rather, aired “biased Afghan coverage” (Biased [1]).  Apparently, Dan Rather distorted what really happened in battle on August 11, 1987.  “Dan Rather presented combat footage purporting to show what he described as ‘the biggest one-day defeat for Soviet forces since World War II,’ killing 800 Soviet troops. In reality, the battle was small and didn't involve Soviet forces” (Biased [1]).  Even more controversy ensued when it came out that:

CBS presented staged “action-packed commando” footage in which Afghan mujahedeen performed as actors in sequences purporting to show rebel advances, such as blowing up electric lines leading to Kabul. Scenes of mujahedeen stalking enemy positions and blowing up a mine were acted out and filmed in the safety of a Pakistani training camp. A Pakistani Air Force jet on a training mission was presented as “a Soviet jet bombing Afghan villages.” (Biased [1]) 

And apparently some of this footage appeared on the documentary “The Battle for Afghanistan” that was narrated by Dan Rather. 

            Dan Rather does not always report balanced and accurate news reports.  Despite that, he maintains a great amount of credibility with the viewers.  But in March 2001, Rather publicly damaged his credibility by participating in a Democratic Party fundraiser in Texas.  The invitation to the event read, “Please join us for an evening with DAN RATHER” and included an RSVP envelope asking for a $1,000 donation to the Democratic Party (Bozell 13).  The next day Rather admitted, “I made an embarrassing and regrettable error in judgment by going to this event.  It was a serious mistake, which I acknowledge.  No one believes more strongly in CBS News standards than I do, and I have let those standards down” (In-Brief 69).  Journalists associated with a specific news station aren’t supposed to publicly affiliate themselves with a political party.  This occurrence gives conservatives more “proof” that Dan Rather uses his influences and position to persuade people to his point of view.

            Contrary to conservative belief, however, Dan Rather does not consider himself to have a liberal bias when reporting news.  On September 20, 1997, Dan Rather stated, "I do believe in what's become an archaic word for journalists, objectivity. You know my job is to be accurate, be fair, and in so far as it's humanly possible, to keep my feelings out of every story...I do agree that one test of a reporter is how often he or she is able to keep their emotions out of what they are doing and keep their own biases and agendas out of it" (Dan Rather’s [18]).  And when asked what he did to be labeled by conservatives as having a liberal bias, Rather answered, “I remained an independent reporter who would not report the news the way they wanted it or -- from the left or the right. I’m a lifetime reporter. All I ever dreamed of was being a journalist, and the definition of journalist to me was the guy who’s an honest broker of information. ...I do subscribe to the idea of: ‘Play no favorites and pull no punches’” (Dan Rather’s [18]).

            Even though Rather doesn’t believe that he has a liberal bias, many examples can be cited demonstrating when he hasn’t been accurate in his reporting and when he has revealed his personal feelings on issues that he was reporting.  And even if Dan Rather doesn’t see it, conservative and liberal watchdogs agree that Rather isn’t always accurate and unbiased in the news he reports.  This doesn’t mean that viewers should necessarily watch a different nightly newscast, but they should at least be aware of Rather’s shortcomings as a new anchor and reporter.  Viewers should know that they may have to filter out his bias and that they shouldn’t take everything reported at face value.


Works Cited

Bozell III, Brent. “Dan Rather, Democratic Fundraiser.” Human Events Vol. 57 Issue 15.

04/23/2001, 13. Available from Academic Search Premier EBSCOhost. Accessed 2 March 2004.

D’agostino, Joseph. “Dan Rather and Democrats Jump to Leaky Conclusion.” Human Events

Vol. 56 Issue 32. 09/01/2000, 5. Available from Academic Search Premier EBSCOhost. Accessed 2 March 2004.

Dan Rather’s Liberal Bias. 2 March 2004. <www.mediaresearch.org>.

Hickey, Neil. “Dan Rather: Anchors Aweigh.” Columbia Journalism Review Vol. 40 Issue 4.

Nov/Dec 2001, 90. Available from Communication & Mass Media Complete EBSCOhost. Accessed 2 March 2004.

“In Brief.” Quill Vol. 89 Issue 5. Jun 2001, 69. Available from Communication & Mass Media

Complete EBSCOhost. Accessed 2 March 2004.

Mundy, Alicia. “In Dan We Trust.” MediaWeek Vol. 11 Issue 40. 10/29/2001, 20-24. Available

from Communication & Mass Media Complete EBSCOhost. Accessed 2 March 2004.

“Print Media Protect Rather:  Biased Afghan Coverage at CBS.” Extra! Oct/Nov 1989. 2 Mar.

2004 <http://www.fair.org/extra/8910/cbs-afghan.html>.

Stoehr, Chris and David Zurawik. “Rather Remarkable.” American Journalism Review Vol. 20

Issue 4. May 1998, 36-41. Available from Communication & Mass Media Complete EBSCOhost. Accessed 2 March 2004.