Texas Book Festival 2017:
A Conversation With Dan Rather
At launch for What Unites Us, newsman shares positivity
By Katarina Brown,
10:00AM, Mon. Nov. 6, 2017
You may have thought of Dan Rather, former reporter and news anchor at CBS and Dan Rather Reports, as a global phenomenon, but at his appearance at the Texas Book Festival this weekend, the world was reminded just how Texas he is.
As the recipient of this year’s Texas Writer Award, Rather began his session by accepting his award, which in true Lone Star fashion, was presented not as a trophy but instead given in the form of a custom pair of cowboy boots. From there, the packed crowd, some of whom had been waiting outside since 10am for Rather’s noon session, welcomed him with cheers and laughter.
Underneath all this Texas charm – he complimented the new Austin library! – was the same concerned author who was pushed to write What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism. Through Texas Tribune editor and moderator Evan Smith’s guidance, Rather walked the audience through the beliefs that fuel his continued contributions to journalism and political discussion. Beginning with Rather’s fundamental belief that nationalism and patriotism are distinct from each other, the discussion sought to balance Rather’s innate optimism with the hard facts he’s confronted through years of investigative journalism. As Rather himself said, “As a reporter, I’ve always tried to be a skeptic, but never a cynic.”
Smith focused the conversation on three specific chapters from What Unites Us: “Science,” “Empathy,” and “Dissent.” Unsurprisingly, Rather and Smith brought up Trump and his administration's use of “alternative facts” as the main aggressor to science in all its forms. Similarly, their discussion of dissent centered on the current administration’s unprecedented attacks on specific members of the press. While these conversations were heavy, Rather’s restrained positivity came forth once more when speaking about empathy, fully convinced that the American people prize it above all else, saying, “It’s just the elected officials who have lost touch.”
Rather’s belief in the public found its perfect audience with the Texas Book Fest crowd, who asked tough questions with a seeming genuine curiosity and hope for context. Audience members asked about the recent outpouring of sexual harassment allegations, the modern media landscape, and the Russia investigation. Tough questions, but Rather modeled the level tone of his book, affirming his goal for his fresh dip into book writing: “I don’t intend to preach to anyone. I just want to start a civil conversation.”