Former CBS News anchor Dan Rather discussed the characteristics of great leaders, news coverage in the digital age and the thin line between patriotism and nationalism at his Feb. 13 visit to Brookhaven College.
Rather, a Texas native and Sam Houston State University alumnus, served as a CBS News White House and foreign correspondent and was “The CBS Evening News” anchor for 24 years.
Following his departure from broadcast, Rather has created a social media presence and has developed a following as a progressive voice.
He has also launched an independent production company, News and Guts Media.
His speech at Brookhaven was funded by Title V, the U.S. Department of Education’s Developing Hispanic-Serving Institutions Program.
Title V also funded Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting survivor and gun control activist David Hogg’s Jan. 29 visit to the campus.
Rather began his speech, to a mix of students, campus employees and members of the community, by joking of his time as a student and young broadcast journalist before transitioning into the topic of patriotism.
“This is a subject that can be, for many people, controversial,” he said. “Only because I think some people confuse patriotism with nationalism.”
Rather stated that elements of nationalism, such as a love for one’s country, are folded into patriotism, but when nationalism becomes extreme, when one puts their country in a position of supremacy over others, it becomes an issue.
Rather warned the audience to be wary of people who give the title of patriot to themselves and, without naming anyone specifically, warned of national leaders who seek to exploit these ideas.
He went on to say that patriotism is not only about loving one’s country, but also looking for ways to improve their country through open dialogue.
“It takes engagement with those who are different than you, which is sometimes difficult,” he said. “It takes fairness in law and opportunity. It takes coming together for
Rather said that he wants people to love this country, but he doesn’t want them to think it ever was or is a perfect nation.
Through noticeable emotion, Rather professed his “deeply abiding love” for the people who make the United States “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
“For me, these words mean something very deep,” he said. “A feeling that I’ve struggled to put into words. From battlefields to segregated lunch counters, I have seen the cost of freedom and bravery, and it is indeed a high cost.”
He said he believes the United States is in a perilous time because of growing social divisions, but that the country has seen perilous times before.
He said engaged citizens, particularly young citizens, can overcome any dangerous eroding of ideals.
During the Q&A portion of the event, Rather was asked to speak on topics he hadn’t touched on during his speech: digital news and President Donald Trump.
Theater major Allen Wiese said that in the aftermath of the government shutdown, he felt the 24-hour digital news cycle to be exhausting.
“With all of the different breaking news happening every day, it seemed like there was something big going on every single day, every 30 minutes, and that seems to be very daunting for a lot of people,” he said.
Rather said people should be cautious of the usage of the breaking news label and said that he primarily sticks to the Associated Press and Reuters for his news.
“Recognize that the phrase ‘breaking news’ has now been bastardized to the point that it has no meaning,” he said.
Computer science major Allen Solomon specifically pointed at Trump and misinformation on social media as a concern during the digital age and wondered if citizens should demand more from the media that covers him.
“Do you believe us as citizens have an obligation to keep our news outlets accountable for the information they spread out?” he asked.
Rather responded by saying that citizens as well as media outlets have a responsibility.
He said that the internet and the vast access to information are in ways like the introduction of radio.
Citing radio broadcaster Edward R. Murrow, Rather said the digital age has tools to combat poverty and ignorance, but only if those tools are used effectively.
Rather spoke specifically to students in his closing statement and stressed the importance of their leadership.
He said that to be an effective leader, students should consider prioritizing several traits.
Rather said servitude, humility, learning as well as teaching, being able to speak and listen effectively, being able to write effectively and thinking critically and analytically are all traits that he’s seen in the best leaders.
Rather closed the event, again with emotion in his voice, saying that fate relies on the will of young people.
“I understand that my time to shape and help this world is passing,” he said. “I hope now to inspire others to love this country, … to work hard to make it a healthier and more just place to live. I ultimately have faith in the basic decency of our American citizens. I believe strongly that the core tenets that I love most about this nation can be a foundation for commonality and strength in unity once more. I believe in a wide and expansive vision of our national destiny, and I believe that I want you to make it reality.”