Trends in American society threaten the role of the journalist as "an honest broker of information," CBS news correspondent Dan Rather told 600 people in the ARCO Forum at the Kennedy School last night.
Recent Supreme Court decisions, public suspicion, and the tendency among television broadcasters to "go for the pretty face" all threaten good reporting, Rather said.
Objective reporting suffers most overseas, Rather said, where reporters have difficulty checking sources and must rely on official lines of information. The problem is especially acute in South Africa, he added.
Rather cited the recent Supreme Court ruling against "60 Minutes" as one in a series of decisions that threaten the First Amendment. The decision ruled that a court can order a reporter to disclose what goes on in his mind during the "reporting process" of a story.
Commenting on public suspicion of journalists, Rather said that too many reporters act as "attack dogs" or "lapdogs" instead of "watchdogs," creating news or appeasing officials instead of being objective.
Rather commented on the trend towards blandness in television reporting. Stations decide to broadcast good news saying "let's not deal with people dying in Southeast Asia but say that the Lion's Club had a meeting and sang the national anthem."