Dan Rather this weekend smacked down the entire panel of the syndicated "Chris Matthews Show" over the press hyping Pastor Terry Jones's threats to burn Korans on the ninth anniversary of 9/11.
"Media in general bear some responsibility here by running so hard with this story so early and putting such comments as you just said not only on the air, but high on the air, giving it play," Rather said.
When everyone on the set - including Matthews, Katty Kay of the BBC, Andrea Mitchell of NBC, and David Ignatius of the Washington Post - disagreed with him, Rather pushed back, "We do have a responsibility, however you want to describe us, as gatekeepers."
He continued, "We could do a better job of putting it in perspective, putting it into context" (video follows with transcript and commentary):
DAN RATHER, HDNET: That's a very important point. And let's not forget here that the press, and it--media in general bear some responsibility here by running so hard with this story so early and putting such comments as you just said not only on the air, but high on the air, giving it play. We have a lot to answer for on this, as well, and I think we've all learned something out of this. You know, the message that--if we consider--if we allow it--the air to get out that we think all Muslims are enemies, then we're going to have them all as enemies. We have to be very careful about that, and particularly this happening in the roll up to 9/11 when we should be in remembrance, in reverence and in resolve, to get caught up in this small thing, we've all got a lot to answer for.
After some largely irrelevant discussion, Mitchell chose to disagree with Rather's view:
ANDREA MITCHELL (NBC Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent): I was going to say that in this current atmosphere, the viral nature of this, the blogosphere, there's almost no way to contain this kind of conflagration, even if it is one minor...
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: If the big networks...
Ms. MITCHELL: ...ridiculous...(unintelligible).
MATTHEWS: ...even if the big networks conspired together, which they don't do, and you got together a meeting of four or five top people in the news organizations...
Mr. RATHER: (Unintelligible)
MATTHEWS: ...that wouldn't keep the kid with the cell phone from going down...
KATTY KAY (BBC Washington Correspondent): They are hearing it out in Afghanistan.
Ms. MITCHELL: We have to also remember...
Ms. KAY: They are hearing it in Afghanistan and responding.
Ms. MITCHELL: ...the way it is perceived because overseas, there is no sense that well, there's freedom of press, there's a First Amendment, the president of the United States can't order this man off the stage.
MATTHEWS: What did you make of Maliki saying to the president of the United States, `You have to put out this fire'? Doesn't he get it?
Ms. MITCHELL: No. If he got it, we would have a government in Iraq six, seven months later.
MATTHEWS: David, don't they get the fact that the president of the United States, despite all the talk in this country about socialist dictatorship and all this, there's an awful lot of freedom in this country.
DAVID IGNATIUS (Columnist The Washington Post): That's precisely what they don't get. I mean, if President Mubarak was angry about somebody saying something...
Ms. MITCHELL: Yeah.
Mr. IGNATIUS: ...that person would be in prison...
Ms. KAY: Right.
Mr. IGNATIUS: ...the next--the next hour.
Ms. KAY: And President Mubarak would never come out and say something.
Mr. IGNATIUS: So, you know, people--I think that's what--because around the world, if a president is unhappy about something, it stops.
Mr. IGNATIUS: And I think they had to show that that was the case here. You know, the point that--to the point that Dan was making, our ability to act as a gatekeeper, you know, in the big media networks, newspapers...
Ms. MITCHELL: It's over, right?
Mr. IGNATIUS: ...it's over.
Ms. MITCHELL: Right.
Mr. IGNATIUS: I mean, this is a viral world.
Mr. IGNATIUS: This got around not because the, you know, the big press churned it, but because it went out on the Internet.
Ms. KAY: This, Chris, it does...
Mr. RATHER: I agree with that, David, however, we do have a responsibility, however you want to describe us, as gatekeepers. We could do a better job of putting it in perspective, putting it into context.
Mr. RATHER: Raising questions of OK, there's a lot of talk of what's patriotism and what is not patriotism. Is this an anti-patriotic act? That can be a role that we can perform better. I quite agree, once it goes viral, nobody can even conspire to say let's keep this thing down.
Ms. KAY: And in a sense...
MATTHEWS: First question to you...
Mr. RATHER: But we can put it in context and perspective.
Context and perspective indeed.
For instance, how about reporting the rarity of hate crimes against Muslims in this country. In the midst of this media campaign to summarily accuse Americans of being Islamophobic, how many so-called journalists referred to FBI statistics dispelling this notion?
And how about making it clear that not only was Jones a fringe religious player in Florida, likely the overwhelming majority of Americans didn't support what he was doing and wanted him not to carry out his deplorable, attention-getting stunt?
This certainly would have added some context and perspective if media would have done so with every report on this subject.
Unfortunately, as Rather pointed out despite the protests from everyone else on the set, this wasn't what happened last week.
Not by a long shot.