Dan Rather Correct: “A Truly Free And Independent Press Is The Red Beating Heart Of Democracy And Freedom”

Journalists help keeps this nation free, and are vital to our democracy.  In fact they are just as important as soldiers and marines.  As such this issue about a commission on media reform is important to discuss.

Former CBS News anchor Dan Rather called on President Barack Obama to form a White House commission to help save the press Tuesday night in an impassioned speech at the Aspen Institute.

“I personally encourage the president to establish a White House commission on public media,” the legendary newsman said.

Such a commission on media reform, Rather said, ought to make recommendations on saving journalism jobs and creating new business models to keep news organizations alive.

At stake, he argued, is the very survival of American democracy.

“A truly free and independent press is the red beating heart of democracy and freedom,” Rather said in an interview yesterday afternoon. “This is not something just for journalists to be concerned about, and the loss of jobs and the loss of newspapers, and the diminution of the American press’ traditional role of being the watchdog on power. This is something every citizen should be concerned about.”

Rather, who has been a working reporter for more than six decades and currently hosts “Dan Rather Reports” on HDNet, pointed out that there are precedents for such national commissions, which have been used to help other at-risk industries.

Corporate and political influence on newsrooms, along with the conflation of news and entertainment, has created what Rather called “the dumbing down and sleazing up of what we see on the news.”

It has also thinned the amount of investigative and international journalism. The latter loss of correspondents covering America’s two foreign wars, Rather opined, is both a critical detriment to the nation and a disservice to our troops.

Tears welled in the lifelong reporter’s eyes as he discussed the dwindling number of war correspondents.

“I feel particularly strong about coverage of the wars,” he said, noting that covering the war in Afghanistan is his top priority on his HDNet program. “No apologies, both as a journalist and as a citizen I just can’t stand to leave those guys out there, fighting, dying, bleeding, getting torn up and say, ‘Look, it’s page 14 news.’ Or ‘Sorry, not on tonight’s newscast.’ It’s an example of the problem, that and not having the watchdogs.”

The free press, as established by the First Amendment to the Constitution, ought to operate as a public trust, not solely as a money-making endeavor, Rather argued, and it’s time the government make an effort to ensure the survival of the free press. If not the government, he suggested, then an organization like the Carnegie Foundation should take it on. Without action, he predicted, America will lose its independent media.

“If we do nothing more than stand back and hope that innovation alone will solve this crisis,” he said, “then our best-trained journalists will lose their jobs.”

Harvey Milk Received Presidential Medal Of Freedom, Country’s Highest Civilian Honor

Excellent.  Can you see President Bush doing this? 

The late San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk received the presidential Medal of Freedom award today with 15 other recipients ranging across the professional and ideological spectrum, from the late supply sider Jack Kemp to tennis star Billy Jean King to Sen. Edward Kennedy, whose absence from the health care debate due to brain cancer treatments has weighed heavily on the White House.

The medal is the country’s highest civilian honor. President Obama said all the recipients “share one overarching trait: Each has been an agent of change. Each saw an imperfect world and set about improving it, often overcoming great obstacles along the way. Their relentless devotion to breaking down barriers and lifting up their fellow citizens sets a standard to which we all should strive.”

Milk, celebrated in an award-winning film, became in 1977 the first openly-gay elected official in a major U.S. city. He and Mayor George Moscone were shot and killed by former supervisor Dan White in 1978. Then board of supervisors president Dianne Feinstein was among the first on the scene, leaving an indelible impression on her, while opening her path to becoming Mayor of San Francisco, one-time candidate for governor and now U.S. Senator.

The White House praised Milk for encouraging lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender citizens “to live their lives openly” and for his belief that “coming out was the only way they could change society and achieve social equality…Milk is revered nationally and globally as a pioneer of the LGBT civil rights movement for his exceptional leadership and dedication to equal rights.”

Wisconsin Domestic Partnerships Vital, Need To Survive

The legal minds that assisted in constructing the budget for Wisconsin this year, and those who have studied the language since passage, seem satisfied that the portion dealing with domestic partnerships is constitutional.  That fact, and the lack of any emotional outcry in the months of debate in the State Legislature tell me two things.  One is that the authors and proponents of this idea are rooted in legal cement, and second the public is not adverse to this plan that brings a dose of sanity back to the issue  of domestic relations in Wisconsin. 

The fact we are even needing to have such a plan enacted in Wisconsin is in itself maddening.  As a consequence of the the mean-spirited nature of placing a marriage amendment  for political purposes on the ballot in 2006, and the shallow and at times mistaken nature of what was actually being voted on, brings us to this point in time.   Add on the galling responses in 2006 who supported the amendment that they did not want to stop such ideas as domestic partnerships, only to have them now line up to petition the Supreme Court to do that very thing, and one  can rightfully understand how gay citizens in Wisconsin are very upset.

There are equal rights in Wisconsin that are not being experienced by all, and the domestic partnership plan will help attain those rights .  This plan does not go far enough for certain, but at least it gets us moving in the correct direction again.

A couple years ago after helping a friend change a tire, we were putting items back in his trunk when I saw a file of legal papers he kept.  I understood instantly the files were there in the case he or his partner were involved in a medical situation on the road which required a hospital or doctor to be aware that this couple could and wanted to make decisions for each other in emergencies.  We talked about it for a couple minutes and he told me included in the file were hospital visitation authorizations, living wills, directives to attending physicians, powers of attorney forms for both health care and finance that were notarized and signed by a raft of people.  Additionally, there were forms for declaration of domestic partner status; a non-binding legal agreement to support the other documents claiming that the one had the right to assist the other in any situation.  All of the forms were in duplicate and reciprocal, and must have cost a fair amount in attorney’s fees.

That is the reality of being gay in Wisconsin.  To ensure that basic rights and dignities are afforded gay couples, they must carry expensive legal documents with them–and then even some of those documents may not be honored, and they are to expect that.  How many straight couples have you talked with that need and require the same such paperwork in the case of an accident?  How many expect in advance that their wishes may or may not be honored in a time of crisis?

The opponents of domestic partnerships can hide behind legal paperwork, but for many in the state the reality is that being prepared for the worst is a daily reminder of how tenuous equality and justice can be.

Think about it, and then say that the domestic partnership plan is not worthy of survival.