Dan Rather: The GOP Primary is a Cross Between Mad Max and Wrestlemania

The legendary newsman and his grandson sound off on journalism – past and present – and the new Rather Prize.

By Joy DiazApril 26, 2016 12:05 pm|

Former news anchor for the CBS Evening News and journalism great Dan Rather stepped into the Texas Standard studio this week, along with his grandson Martin Rather, to announce the inaugural winner of the Rather Prize. We asked them about the prize and spoke to Dan Rather about the future of journalism, presidential campaigns and more.

The Rather Prize, which goes to improve education in Texas, awards $10,000 to a competitive teacher or student – either a current student or someone who attended a Texas educational institution in the past three years.

This year’s prize goes to Sanford Jeames of Eastside Memorial High School in Austin for an internship and mentorship program for students.

Martin Rather, now a student at Rice University, says the idea came from a discussion he had with his grandparents, Dan and Jean Rather, about their education in Texas public schools.

“I’ve always been interested in their education and the access and the opportunity that it gave them,” Martin Rather says. “When we were looking at some national education rankings we saw Texas was 39th in the country and God didn’t put Texas on this earth to be 39th in anything.”

Dan Rather says Martin’s idea behind the prize was to transform education in Texas.

“The idea of giving a prize for the best idea to improve Texas education, and to emphasize a way to get the ideas and ideals of people from the bottom up,” Dan Rather says. “So much of what passes for school reform education reform comes top down.”

The contest will open up again in August.

Dan Rather on the future of serious journalism in the broadcast field:

“I’m sorry to say that it is regressed. That the business model for journalism – particularly the business model that will finance deep digging investigative reporting and … what we used to call foreign reporting, the business model for that is fading away.”

“So journalism finds itself in … interregnum – the order was gone, the new order was not yet in place. I’m very optimistic by nature … always looking to the far horizon. But journalism has to find a new business model that … will finance the kind of first-class quality journalism that a society such as us has to have. It’s absolutely imperative.”

That’s not to say there isn’t good journalism being done, but Rather says the consumer has to look harder and be more skeptical to find it.

Dan Rather on whether this presidential campaign cycle has echoes of the 1968 cycle:

“We had the assassination of Senator Robert Kennedy, candidate for president, assassination of Martin Luther King, we had race riots in the street, we had a huge protests against the war. This was a volatile time in American history. There are echoes of 1968 in the presidential campaign of 2016.

“I’ve learned over the years not to make predictions – I’m fond of saying that he who lives with a crystal ball learns to eat a lot of broken glass. And I’ve eaten more than my share over the years. But there is a prospect of this year’s Republican convention being a wild and wooly affair, partly because the Republican primary and caucus has been kind of – I hate to say this – but (as John Oliver said) it’s been something between Mad Max and Wrestlemania.”

Dan Rather on Donald Trump’s media savvy:

“Every presidential campaign is unique unto itself, and every presidential campaign in our system is historic, but this is a particularly historic and unique campaign.

Donald Trump hasn’t had to pay for very much media at all, he has overwhelmed his opposition with free media. Whether you like Donald Trump or not, he’s smart, he’s media smart.”

Listen to the audio players above to hear more about The Rather Prize and Dan Rather’s views on reportage during the Vietnam war, the power of the presidency and his influence as a journalist.