Legendary news anchor Dan Rather had some strong words for journalists who fawned over the U.S. airstrike in Syria this week while asking few critical questions.
“The number of members of the press who have lauded the actions last night as ‘presidential’ is concerning,” Rather wrote in a Facebook post on Friday. “War must never be considered a public relations operation. It is not a way for an Administration to gain a narrative. It is a step into a dangerous unknown and its full impact is impossible to predict, especially in the immediate wake of the first strike.”
Cable news personalities on Friday seemed to equate the legitimacy of a U.S. president with dropping bombs. CNN’s Fareed Zakaria stated that “Donald Trump became president of the United States” when the strikes started, while The Washington Post’s David Ignatius said on MSNBC that the commander in chief had “put pure more umph, more credibility” back into “American power.” MSNBC’s Brian Williams went so far as to call the Tomahawk missiles ― which state-run Syrian media reported killed at least nine people, including four children — “beautiful.”
Rather pointed out that no matter what someone’s opinion on whether the airstrike was the correct course of action, the media’s job is to ask difficult questions, not drool over the spectacle of war:
The role of the press is to ask hard questions. There is ample evidence that this Administration needs to face deep scrutiny. The lies we have heard, the chaos in governance, and the looming questions about ties with Russia - itself a major player in Syria - demand that the press treat this latest action with healthy skepticism. Perhaps it was the right thing to do. Perhaps a strong and wise policy will emerge. But that judgement is still definitely hanging in the balance.
Read Rather’s whole post below.
As Fusion editor Alex Pareene noted last month, equating dropping bombs with being “presidential” is especially dangerous in the era of Trump, who has demonstrated repeatedly that he cares deeply about how he’s treated on TV. The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald made a similar point in an article published after the latest strikes. And some journalists, like MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, suggested that the strike could have been a calculated move on Trump’s part to turn press coverage in his favor.
CORRECTION: This article has been updated to correct a sentence that mischaracterized a point made in The Intercept article.