During more than half a century in journalism, Dan Rather covered President Kennedy’s assassination, the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and armed conflicts around the globe, yet he still describes himself as an optimist.
Rather, 86, will be making Southern California stops on Monday and Tuesday, Dec. 4 and 5, to talk about his new book, “What Unites Us,” which includes essays on patriotism, immigration, service and education.
His career started at news wire services, and he became a household face and voice during 24 years as anchor of the CBS Evening News. Since leaving the network in 2004 after controversy over a story about President George W. Bush’s military service, Rather has recently built a new audience via commentaries he posts on Facebook.
At first Rather resisted the urging of his young adult grandchildren and his mostly Millennial staff at News & Guts, his media production company, to get on social media, he said in a phone interview.
“They were constantly saying to me, ‘If you want to be part of the conversation, the national conversation, if you want to be relevant in terms of being a lifetime journalist, it’s not an option,’” he said. He was surprised at Facebook’s reach, with some of his posts seen by as many as 30 million people.
Calling himself “a reporter who got lucky,” Rather said his aim on social media is “to give some context and perspective to current events and particularly historical context, but at the same time I’m trying to frankly sort of cut through some of the noise of news every day and talk straight to people.”
While some of his Facebook posts are scathing criticisms of Congress and President Trump’s administration, that’s not what the new book is about. In fact, Rather said, it’s the opposite.
In an essay on empathy, Rather describes how his family shared food and Christmas gifts with less fortunate neighbors. His mother explained they gave not out of pity, but because “We understand how they feel.”
Though Rather sees a distinct lack of empathy from the nation’s political leaders, he said, “The book is about emphasizing those things that are core values of the United States, and we are an empathetic people. …What I’m trying to do is give some words of hope in a time of hurting.”
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