It’s very unfair, of course, to compare Dan Rather to OJ Simpson – Simpson killed people – but both reemerged at roughly the same time and represent extraordinary examples of a kind of sociopathic behavior created in part by our culture of celebrity.
OJ, as everyone knows was a huge sports, movie and media star. Rather was an anchorman of the most celebrated sort – the one to “interview” Saddam as if representing all of us, among other flak-jacketed, high profile activities. In fact, his demise helped put a stake in the heart of that particular occupation, the television anchor a la Cronkite. The idea that one individual has that much power over the public’s view of the world now seems almost Neanderthal and certainly reactionary.
In the case of OJ, we see our television lives dominated once again by the bizarre saga of an unpunished celebrity murderer.
We have lived for some time in a society in which stardom seems to motivate people to lose contact with reality. The more attention they get – the crazier that get. And if they feel that attention diminishing, they act out to regain it. It’s like a drug – media crack cocaine.
Thus we have a Sean Penn opining on Katrina, sailing about New Orleans like some junior Ahab or Sally Fields telling us – using an obscenity of course, lest we ignore her – that the world would be different with women in control. It can be argued that OJ’s looney break-in in Vegas was, more than anything, a plea for attention.
Rather’s new lawsuit against CBS also seems, most of all, the cry of a lonely desperate man – Remember me! Remember me!
Forget the facts. It’s the attention that counts. Some of this is farce, of course. But in the case of Rather, thought control and major political manipulation could have been the result of his prevarication.
In a fascinating interview with Rather in today’s Washington Post, Howard Kurtz reveals the extent of the former anchorman’s delusions, which now approaches clinical cognitive dissonance. Rather somehow still believes he was promulgating the truth, unable to make the obvious distinction between what he “feels” to be true and an evident forged document.
Or he seems to believe that because his arguments thrash about like some pathetic wounded animal, one moment implying that CBS forced him to promote a lie and the next implying that it wasn’t a lie after all. Cognitive dissonance, indeed. That he would give an interview to Kurtz in the first place, instead of allowing his lawyers to do their work (he is destroying their case here, assuming they even had one) reveals Rather’s sad motivation all too clearly.
In a final burst of black comedy, Kurtz states that Rather ” is portraying the lawsuit as a challenge to the corrosive influence of conglomerates, including the one that paid him millions over the years.”
My intention here is not to bash Rather yet again – though he deserves it – but to emphasize that he is a creature of our culture. He is one of us. Giving celebrities so much power leads to this. This is especially dangerous in the case of news celebrities who have so much opportunity to distort reality.
CBS had an opportunity to underscore this after the fall of Rather, but chose to go the other way, elevating yet another celebrity – Katie Couric – to the outmoded anchor chair, which, thankfully, appears to be failing.
The anchorman or woman is a dinosaur that should have been extinct decades ago. This is one lawsuit in which I am rooting for both sides to lose.
PJ Media CEO Roger L. Simon is an Academy Award-nominated screenwriter, novelist and blogger.