News Correspondent, Dan Rather,
Speaks to Students at TAMU-C, Tuesday Night
by: Bobby McDonald
A familiar face to most students at Texas A&M University-Commerce appeared on campus, Tuesday night, as longtime news anchor and correspondent, Dan Rather, Jr., made his way to Ferguson Hall, for a speech and questions and answers from those present. The appearance at TAMU-C was part of the "Campus Life and Student Development Program" and began at 7:30 p.m., with Rather delivering a speech entitled "Hard Times, Then and Now."
Rather addressed the students concerning a lifetime career in public journalism, that began humbly with his birth, in 1931, in Wharton, Texas. The family moved to Houston, Texas, during the Great Depression and Rather graduated from high school in 1949, from John H. Reagan High School in Houston. He managed to "scape together" the money to attend college at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, where he became the editor of the college newspaper, The Houstonian, and was a member of the Caballeros, the founding organization of the Epsilon Psi chapter of Sigma Chi fraternity (incidentally, he dated Sulphur Springs resident, Essie Pearson, during his time at Sam Houston State).
Following his 1953 graduation from Sam Houston, Rather briefly attended the South Texas School of Law, but enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. "I probably had one of the most undecorated military careers in the entire Marine Corps," quipped Rather. "As I was discharged in 1954, after they found out i had experienced rheumatic fever as a child!"
Rather told the students....."I'm Texas born! Texas bred, and when I die, I'll be Texas dead!"
"And, like many of you students in 2012, I had an education and was looking for a job in 1954," continued Rather. "Jobs were hard to come by, and I finally got a job with the Houston Chronicle, which was a 'big deal,' as it was largest newspaper in the state. I was hired as a temp employee and started out like most people on the bottom doing obituaries and other small stories, but I'd always been a poor speller. I spent most of my time pouring over the dictionary, to make certain I had things spelled correctly. Well, soon my superior had mercy on me and came to me, telling me that I wasn't going to 'make it' in the newspaper business, but had a contact at Houston's KTRH Radio, and told me to go and apply for the job. With the experience that I had in college at working with KSAM-FM, I got the job. This began an almost 60 year career in public journalism!"
"I can identify with the recessionary times that many of you are experiencing in finding careers," related Rather. "And, my father, nicknamed 'Rags" Rather, wasn't really impressed when he learned I had a job talking on the radio, as he couldn't believe they actually paid people to do that!"
During Tuesday night's question and answer period, Rather addressed a number of poignant issues that have transpired his career. He stated that the three most difficult issues he'd ever covered were: 1) the President Kennedy Assassination; 2) Watergate; and 3) The 9-11 Attacks. Rather told the audience that the Kennedy Assassination was monumental as it happened in his home state of Texas and that as a young reporter he was just as "shocked" as the rest of the nation. He also related that many of the students would understand the significance of the Watergate investigation, but that he and the nation had such a respect and esteem for the office of President at the time, that the investigation was a severe shock to the nation as well. Then, he outlined that the 9-11 Attacks being the first attack on American soil was another monumental "shock" to the entire nation.
"I take part of the blame, as a reporter!" explained Rather, when asked about the media's influence on events in the nation and the world. "I feel we as journalist provide less news coverage now than 25 or 30 years ago. We've lost a lot of our 'guts and grit' in reporting. We need a 'spine transplant' to do the investigative reporting that we did in earlier times. Large corporations own much of the media outlets today and the control the distribution of news. I do see a 'glimmer' of hope that more in-depth reporting is possible in the future and that is a 'good thing."
When asked about the "social media" of today, Rather stated, "Do I get information off the internet and do I get stories from Facebook? You bet!"
Rather told the group that theInternet is the dominant news source today and we're kidding ourselves if we think it isn't the way of news now and for the future! We never had a vision of the future of television in the 1950's and 1960's, but look what it become, and the Internet has the same potential for development, only at a more rapid rate, now!
A reception was hosted in the Sam Rayburn Memorial Center, honoring Dan Rather, Jr., following his address.