Legendary journalist Dan Rather is honored on Slate's 80 Over 80 list, featuring the most influential Americans 80 years old and older.
The magazine describes the former CBS Evening News anchor as the “archetype of the sober, authoritative, old-school American newsman.”
Some of that shines through in Rather’s latest book, "What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism,” which touches on themes of resilience and hope. And he's right on the news with sharp political analysis and blunt explanations of current events on his Facebook and Twitter feeds.
The 89-year-old says he’s honored to be included on the Slate list, which was created a decade ago to poke fun at our society’s obsession with youthful exceptionalism. But he says getting older — and being included on a list of 80 over 80 — still takes some getting used to.
“I say that with a great smile, because the longer I go, the more I know how important it is not to take yourself too seriously,” Rather says. “But so I do go into every day, and I was thinking today, that I'm just so grateful to have been able to live this long.”
Rather has also become Twitter famous for his scathing rebukes of President Trump and candid words about the need for more economic relief in the pandemic. But he was at first reluctant to try Twitter, and he says he only started tweeting after young staffers at his media production company News and Guts practically demanded he join.
“Twitter has been a pleasant surprise to me,” he says. “For one thing, on Twitter, you can use humor a lot more than what I would call, you know, regular news platforms.”
The connection Rather feels with people on social media is “much more satisfying” than what he experienced in his 24 years as a news anchor, he says.
“The biggest thing about it is you build a community and you have a conversation with the community and you get feedback, and frankly, I learn a great deal,” he says. “And frequently what I learn is that I've been wrong about something. It's great to have the two-way conversation with people.”
Rather retired from CBS News in 2006 following controversy over a “60 Minutes” story about then-President George W. Bush’s National Guard Service. Rather says he has worked hard to rebuild his career since then, launching his television series “The Big Interview,” writing two books and managing his production company.
“I learned humility, which is not a word generally associated with past or present television anchor people,” he says. “I also learned that when you get knocked down, you have to get up. It's not healthy for your career, it's not healthy for you to stay down.”
Rather says he worries the errors made by journalists are contributing to the erosion of public trust in journalism, which has been under attack in the Trump era.
“The answer to what we can do about it is first thing, do our jobs as well as we can do them,” he says. “And keep in mind that any time we make a mistake, we need to own up to a mistake and explain what happened, be very transparent.”
The key to overcoming that dissolution of trust will be to educate future generations on how to be more discerning of the information they consume, Rather says. But he predicts that skepticism of journalism — and public officials who try to diminish trust in it — will be with us for a long time.
Despite his concerns for the future, Rather says he is hopeful for the new year because “the country will get an important new start.” Many of the problems of 2020, including the pandemic and economic hardship, will remain, but Rather says 2021 gives us an opportunity to “restart.”
“My hopes are high,” he says. “I think they're not unrealistic, but my hopes are high that we as a country, as a people, as a society can get a fresh new start, and that new start will be a whole lot better than what we experienced in the year just past.”
This segment aired on January 1, 2021.