Jun 25 1999

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting: FAIR Associate Sam Husseini questions Dan Rather of CBS Evening News

Dan Rather: On my second trip to Belgrade I was there the nightthey turned off the lights. Remember, the first time we had a raid that shutdown the power, turned off the lights for most of Yugoslavia and that alsomeant turning off the water because the water needed the power to go. Youcould not only see it, hear it, but feel it, the change in mood betweenbefore they shut off the lights and the power and the next day after theyshut off the lights and the power. I said to myself at the time and I wrotein my notebook, “I think this might be the decisive moment in the war.” …I think there’s a legitimate question to be asked, “Well, If we had chosento use this weaponry on the second, third, fourth day or the second or thirdweek of the war, would it have made a difference?” I don’t know the answerto that question. I’m here to bear witness, eye witness, that when we did doit, when we did turn off the lights for the first time, there was a distinctchange in mood. The mood of the Serbian street and countryside ceased to beone of complete, total, and utter defiance and complete confidence that theywould prevail, to something considerably less than that. So make of thatwhat you will. Yes sir.

Question [Sam Husseini]: Thank you. I was struck by your comments just nowabout when you say “we” took out the lights. You seemed to be criticizingthe U.S. government for waiting as long as it did to take out the lights andthe water facilities. Isn’t part of the reason — I hope — part of thereason that they waited as long as they did, is that that’s a war crime? Andit troubles me when you say “we” when your talking about the U.S. governmentwhen you’re, presumably, a journalist and an independent journalist.

Dan Rather: I would hope not presumably — I take your point.

Question [Husseini]: And why do we seem to only recognize a war crime when it’s done byanother government and not our own?

Dan Rather: Fair question. As to the first, I tried to make the point thatI was not being critical of the waiting and if I left you with theimpression, and you say I seem to be critical, I tried to underscore, I’mnot passing judgement on that strategy as opposed to the other strategy. Iwas simply trying to bear witness as to say what I saw there. I don’t thinkthat conveys criticism. It’s to make a point. Now, to your larger pointabout “we.” I understand what you’re saying, and I may be wrong about this.I’ve asked myself any number of times. But, you know I’d like to think Ididn’t just tumble off the turnip truck. I’ve been around the world a fewtimes. I’ve been in a few places. I’ve had to think through this business of”we.” I think, if I may guess from the nature of the way you asked thequestion, you have a different view, and I respect it. But I’m an Americanreporter. Yes I’m a reporter and I want to be accurate. I want to be fair.But I’m an American. I consider the U.S. government my government. So yes Ido—when U.S. pilots in U.S. aircrafts turn off the lights, for me, it’s”we.” And about that I have no apology. I think you and I are maybe ondifferent sides of the street about that and it doesn’t do any good for meto try and kid you. I’m an American, and I’m an American reporter. And yes,when there’s combat involving Americans, you can criticize me if you must, damnme if you must, but I’m always pulling for us to win. [applause from the audience]

Question [Husseini]: Indulge me if you will. My larger point was since you are anAmerican, and since I am an American, isn’t it more noteworthy, and morenewsworthy, and more important that we note if our government is engaged ina war crime?

Dan Rather: About that we agree. If our government engages in war crimesit’s at least as important, and I would agree with you — more important,that we report the war crime. But where we may differ. I’m not sure. Let mesay, I don’t think the decision to turn off the lights would fall in thecategory of a war crime.

Question [Husseini]: If I may suggest a guest for your evening news. Walter Rockler,who was a prosecutor at Nuremberg, and who was the first Nazi-hunter in theJustice Department, says that it is. And I would hope that a voice like hiscould get on the evening news occasionally.

Dan Rather: I know to whom you refer and he wouldn’t have any troublegetting on the evening news. I do have a different view, but I never ruleout the possibility of the other fellow is right. And you may be right aboutthis. Thank you for the question.