From the April 16 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
BRIAN STELTER (HOST): In Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, and elsewhere the Trump administration is both taking military action and also making the most of the media coverage of those actions, of those air strikes and bombings. All of it calling to mind the phrase, “the theater of war.” We've heard commentary about the bombings, these military strikes making Trump “presidential.” But my next guest is concerned about that. Dan Rather, legendary news man, former anchor of the CBS Evening News, currently the host of The Big Interview with Dan Rather on AccessTV. He’s the founder of the production company News And Guts, and he joins me here in New York. Dan, you wrote about the coverage of the Syria strikes now more than a week ago. You said that you thought some of the commentary around this was disturbing. Why?
DAN RATHER: Well, because so much of it saying now President Trump is establishing himself as, quote, “presidential.” Dropping bombs, having missile strikes doesn't make one “presidential.” And there's an old story here, and I among others have much to answer for this in the press, that just because the president exerts himself as commander in chief, there's a natural inclination -- and an unhealthy one – to immediately say, boy, that makes him presidential. That makes him strong. OK. It's easy to drop bombs and easy to put missiles off. What comes after that, dealing with what comes in the wake of that, is much more difficult. So, yes, I was critical of those and raised the question of those who said, well this makes Trump presidential. I gently and hope respectfully disagree with that. What makes one presidential is, can you keep the peace. Now, if it turns out that these actions keep the peace, we can say, well that was a good move. But it's way too early to say that. We're in danger as a country here. There's a lot of flash points around the world: North Korea, let’s not go down the whole list, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, South China Sea. These are real powder kegs with a fairly short fuse burning. So before we make decisions on being, quote, “presidential,” we need to see how this is going to play out.
STELTER: Do journalists have a tendency, a natural tendency to rally around the flag in moments of crisis or moments of military action? And is that detrimental?
RATHER: I think journalists, including this one, do have that tendency, and we should fight it more often. Rallying around the flag doesn't mean rallying around any military strike. Rallying around the flag is what's best for the country. And what's best for the country is for journalists – and again, I don't exempt myself from this criticism -- is to be skeptical, not cynical, but skeptical, and ask the questions. What does this mean? Where can this lead? What was the real purpose of this? What was the real motivation of this? That’s the role journalists should be playing in a society such as ours.
STELTER: Wars or military actions, they burnish journalists’ individual brands, don't they? I was thinking about something that Fox's Chris Stirewalt said on air a couple of weeks ago, he said -- and I thought this was really honest -- he said, “Reporters like stuff to cover. Wars are interesting and eventful.” Now, it's easy to say that from thousands of miles away in Washington or New York, but there is some truth to that, isn’t there?
RATHER: There's a great deal of truth to that. But what all of us need to do as journalists is to kind of pull back a little bit and say, well listen, what is really rallying behind the flag? Being in support of the president, that's one thing. To ask the right questions and keep on asking the right questions. I remind you that in the roll up to the Iraq War, very few journalists, and I'm sorry to say I wasn't one of them, asked enough of the right questions about what are we getting into here? There was an immediate, quote, “rally around the flag.” I think we need to remind ourselves of that today. I want to make very clear that these actions by President Trump may or may not have been necessary. They may or may not have had any other motivation. One effect that they had, whether it was intended or not, was to change the conversation. The conversation was all about what did Donald Trump know and when did he know it about Russian influence on the election. The second the missiles were launched on Syria, the narrative changed to his advantage. Now, I don't think that was his intention, but it was one of the effects of it.