Rather's Coup in China
CBS News is crowing again. The network of Edward R. Murrow is waxing nostalgic about once more being in the forefront of television news. The network has been shooting off symbolic Chinese firecrackers in celebration of its recent historic coverage of the student revolution in China's Tiananmen Square - while its major opposition, NBC and ABC, were caught off guard in New York.Skip to next paragraph
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CBS News, battling ABC in a seesaw struggle for dinner-hour news dominance, had not had much to crow about recently except for its extensive coverage of Japan during the Japanese emperor's funeral. So a few print television journalists recently chatted with ``CBS Nightly News'' anchor Dan Rather shortly after he returned from Beijing.
Mr. Rather, still a bit tired from the ordeal, made no effort to hide his exultation.
``Long ago and far away, when I dreamed of being a reporter,'' he said, ``this is the kind of story I dreamed of covering. This is why one gets in the business. This is why one stays in the business..., the hope against hope that you will get this kind of story.''
Although Rather makes no claim to being a China expert - he says he has been there six or seven times - he states that the more often he goes, ``the more I come to realize that there aren't any China experts.''
He is willing, however, to summarize what he believes the story is all about: ``Will the center hold and what is the center to be?''
About accusations that the television cameras were influencing the story in Beijing, he utters an unexpurgated Texas expletive: ``Horsefeathers!
``This is not a story in which the presence of the television cameras changed the story in any significant way. In this instance the medium is not the message; the message is the message. And the message is that huge numbers of the Chinese people know that Marxism-Leninism-Stalinism doesn't work; they have had a gutful of it and are demanding a change.''
He is disdainful about the media's ability to discern media manipulation. ``Those of us in television are so accustomed to phony events that are staged for the cameras that it is increasingly difficult for us to recognize an authentic event with people of integrity. We're too quick to fall into the easy thing of saying, `Oh well, they did it for television.'
``Well, in this instance it simply isn't true. What is happening there in Tiananmen Square would be happening whether television cameras were there or not ... very much as it has unfolded.''
Anticipating the inevitable accusations that the TV coverage encouraged the demonstrators to perform, he adds: ``However, I am not here to argue that there was no influence by the presence of foreign cameras. All I can do is bear witness to what I believe to be the facts - that it's an error to believe that this is one of those situations that surfaced because of our TV coverage and was staged mostly for our cameras.''