by Dan Washburn

July 14, 2012 (TSR) – This is the first in a series of exclusive video interviews with veteran journalist Dan Rather, former anchor of CBS Evening News, who visited Asia Society Studios in New York City in late June. Rather, 80, currently hosts the investigative news magazine Dan Rather Reports, which airs on AXS TV. Rather’s memoir, Rather Outspoken: My Life in the News, came out in May.


In the segment embedded above, Rather tells me what he believes is the most important news out of Asia today, and whether the media is getting it right. A complete transcript of the video can be found below.

What do you think is currently the biggest story coming out of Asia?

Well the biggest story coming out of Asia now is its rise to much greater prominence. This had been going on for some time, but it has accelerated as the years go by. And the story in historical context is one of, in the same way that the historical center of gravity shifted from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic with the discovery of the New World, the historical center of gravity has now shifted from the Atlantic to the Pacific with the rise of Asia. Now within that, China’s drive to become a, what I call a full service super power, their drive to be an economic super power and a military super power within the larger context of the shift of the historical center of gravity, that I think is the number one story in the world and may continue to be for at least the next quarter of the century if not indeed the 21st Century as a whole.

Is the media getting this story right?

Unfortunately, I don’t think the media is getting the story. First of all, I’m not sure at all we’re getting it right, but I am sure that there’s not nearly the in-depth coverage that there needs to be. Let me say I do not except myself from that criticism; I include myself in that criticism. But the press, particularly the modern media, is so focused — when it’s focused at all on international coverage — on the surface news of the moment, that what’s underreported is the background, perspective, analysis. There’s deep abiding need for that, and it’s not being provided.

Was there a time when you feel the media did a better job with international coverage, particularly coverage of Asia?

My personal opinion is yes there was a time when we were getting it better, in many ways. I would say in the 60s, even as early as the 60s and 70s when it was much more difficult to cover in Asia for example such things as the Cultural Revolution in China, but you did have, number one you had U.S. news organizations who were committed to covering internationally in Asia as deeply as they could and as well as they could. They had well staffed bureaus: TIME magazine, other news magazines, major American newspapers, television networks, all had very large bureaus staffed with experienced correspondents. And even up to and including I would say the early to mid 1980s, I do think the international coverage as a whole in the States was better than it is now, and that includes better coverage in Asia.

Now there are a lot of reasons that I think it has been in decline, not the least of which is what I consider to be a crisis in American journalism having to do with corporatization, politicalization and trivialization of the news. But we all know that today that the number of bureaus even for the best newspapers and electronic news organizations has shrunk dramatically, drastically. The number of reporters covering overseas, and the number of places they are covering has shrunk dramatically and not for the better. It is true that because we as a country have been engaged in two very costly expensive wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to say nothing of the so-called war on terror that takes place in other places, Yemen, Somalia, this has drained the resources of major news organizations. However, I consider that to be an excuse.

The greater problem is this, that news is no longer seen in the largest most important organizations who control most of the true national distribution of news, news is no longer seen as a public service. As recently as the early- to mid-1980s it was still seen by the larger networks in the electronic news and by most magazines and newspapers, as yes we will make money if we can, but news is a public trust. The owners wanted to be responsible to that trust, and therefore to at least some degree, they would operate their news organizations in the public interest. That’s gone almost completely, and it’s part of the problem.

Originally published in Asia Society Online.
AUTHOR: Dan Washburn
Dan Washburn is Managing Editor at Asia Society Online after 8+ years in China. He has written for SlateForeign PolicyFinancial Times and The Economist and is Founding Editor of Shanghaiist.


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