Rather: A Complicated Legacy Reflected in a Fantinted Mirror

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Netflix’s documentary, “Rather,” generally, treads a blurred line between reverence and objectivity. Directed by Frank Marshall, the film chronicles the life and career of Dan Rather, a titan of American broadcast journalism. There’s no doubt “Rather” is a celebration – a thrilling montage of Rather’s on-the-ground reporting during pivotal moments in history, from the Civil Rights movement to the Watergate scandal, and well beyond. Interviews with colleagues and admirers paint a picture of a relentless pursuer of truth, a man who embodied journalistic integrity during an era when such values were paramount.There are moments where the documentary questions Rather in these areas, but it is quick to explain away some questionable decisions on Rather’s part.

However, beneath the hero worship lies a more nuanced portrait, one most viewers would likely to have preferred seeing more of. The film doesn’t shy away from the Killian documents controversy, a dark stain on Rather’s later career. In 2004, CBS News, under Rather’s leadership, aired a report on President George W. Bush’s National Guard service, based on documents later proven to be forgeries. The subsequent fallout, with CBS retracting the story and Rather stepping down, hangs heavy over the narrative. While “Rather” acknowledges the controversy, the exploration feels somewhat muted, leaving viewers with lingering questions.

Beyond the Killian documents, the film hints at a more complex personality. Rather’s fierce competitiveness, a driving force behind his journalistic success, could also lead to clashes with colleagues. Glimpses of these internal conflicts are presented, but only scratches the surface. Rather’s controversial style made working with others in the industry very difficult and may have undermined his effectiveness. There are certainly many that felt that way. But the directors of this documentary clearly did not want to dive too deep into this.

The best part of “Rather” is in its historical context. The documentary weaves Rather’s personal journey with the evolution of broadcast journalism itself. Rather seems like a man on the front row of the most historically notable moments of the 20th century. From the days of Walter Cronkite, where news anchors were seen as trusted authorities, to the rise of cable news and its emphasis on sensationalism, the film highlights the changing landscape Rather navigated. This context adds depth to Rather’s struggles, allowing viewers to understand the challenges he faced in upholding journalistic standards in a rapidly transforming media environment. If you watched Rather during his tenure one has to conclude he had mixed results. Much of the negative is brushed over in this documentary.

In the end, “Rather” offers a contribution to the conversation about journalism and its role in the United States. While the film celebrates Rather’s achievements, it some what tiptoes around his missteps.

However, some viewers might find the celebratory aspects overshadow the critical analysis. A more in-depth exploration of the Killian documents controversy and a deeper dive into Rather’s personality could have provided a more balanced perspective.

Despite these shortcomings, “Rather” is a compelling watch. It’s a reminder of the power of journalism and the complex figures who have chosen to work in this industry..

 

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