Rather Visits, Weighs in on Local AMD Debate

Iconic TV anchor Dan Rather wades into local debate over Advanced Micro Devices' proposed development plans

Iconic TV anchor Dan Rather waded into the debate over Advanced Micro Devices' proposed development plans Monday night, expressing his love for Barton Springs in a speech sponsored by the microchip company. "If anybody thinks that by speaking here I'm endorsing AMD, let me make it clear that I am not," the native Texan told the audience at the Paramount Theatre.

A handful of protesters carried signs and distributed leaflets outside the event, the first installment of public broadcasting affiliate KLRU's Engaging Speaker Series, which was "presented" by AMD (and co-sponsored by The Austin Chronicle). Perky AMD employees dressed in polo-shirt uniforms manned the doors and a state trooper was stationed in the lobby. Before the talk, a video montage of Rather's career was followed by a PowerPoint slide show assuring the audience, over and over again, that AMD is an "active and responsible corporate citizen," amid photos of happy and smiling polo-shirt clad suburban-bots. Rather was introduced by AMD marketing vice-president John Volkmann, who used the term "thought leaders."

Although it apparently didn't bother KLRU management, Rather was clearly uncomfortable with the degree of AMD's role in the event, delaying the start of his talk on media issues to separate himself from the company. While he stopped short of criticizing AMD's plan to build its corporate campus over the Edwards Aquifer, he said he hoped the two sides would find "common ground in protecting natural resources," and appeared to choke up talking about the time he spends at Barton Springs with his family. "We love Barton Springs and the aquifer, and we take it seriously," he said, drawing applause from the audience.

Rather, 74, appeared close to tears at several points during the talk. Early on he grew emotional discussing the troops serving in Iraq, asking the audience for a few seconds of silence to honor their sacrifice. The bulk of his talk was a boilerplate call for better journalism standards and more international coverage. Although he carefully avoided specifics, he said the news industry, in general, "needs a spinal transplant."

One thing Rather was not going to discuss: the much-debated 60 Minutes piece on President Bush's National Guard service, which left a dark cloud over his departure from the anchor desk. Asked if producer Mary Mapes "took a hit" for him, he grew testy. "No, and I didn't take one for her," he said. And he made it clear that he wasn't going to talk about the story further. "I've moved forward," he said.

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