The draw of a career in broadcasting necessitates watching this new documentary which offers a straightforward snapshot of Texan journalist, news anchor and commentator Dan Rather who became a revered household name with his spirited and engaging presence on American TV networks during the turbulent years of the 1960’s and beyond.
Daniel Irvin Rather (1931-) has covered virtually every major event in the world for the past 60 years but is also known for ushering in the era of fake news that led to his downfall at the respected CBS network. Rather is also credited at being the first journalist to announce the news of John F Kennedy’s death in 1963 by running with the rumour, ‘based on his instincts’ before it was fully confirmed.
Amongst many other achievements Rather stood out with his impactful style of reporting that bridged the gap between what was really happening on the ground during the Vietnam war, and the sentiment presented back home. The film outlines his fall from grace for airing documents, during a CBS broadcast in the run up to the 2004 presidential election, suggesting that George W Bush had a sketchy military record during the 1970s. The issue is still mired in controversy to this day.
Coming across as a serious man of integrity as he faces the camera, at 91, an engaging raconteur without guile or glibness, the film pictures him from all perspectives: dutiful son, dogged marine recruit, devoted husband, deeply religious Texan. And this rounded impression is echoed by his daughter Robin who offers her admiration for a loving father deeply committed to his cause. Talking heads-wise we also hear from Susan Zirinsky, his longtime colleague at CBS News, who sees him from a career angle, and not always in glowing terms.
Brimming with spectacular archive footage, news bulletins and interviews, the film darts around chronologically charting a career that began on Texas radio and graduated to TV News slots, where Rather made a name for himself covering Hurricane Carla, the Civil Rights Movement, the J F Kennedy Assassination, Watergate and the fall of the Berlin Wall. The wars in Vietnam, the Gulf and Afghanistan saw him on the battlefield dodging the bullets, and sending serial postcards back home to his family with the simple, repetitive message: “War is Hell”. At CBS on the 60 Minutes programme he was a steady but spirited anchor and is now prolific on Twitter appealing to a younger generation with his recalcitrant outbursts and on his own website News and Guts.
“Can you still make a difference as a journalist” Rather said at the Texas-based Moody College of Communication in 2009. “Yes, if you don’t quit”. This is a clear-eyed, informative film that refuses to dig the dirt on Dan. That’s for another documentary.
TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL | NEW YORK 7-18 JUNE 2023
Dir: Frank Marshall | US Doc 96 minutes