For those of you who are not familiar with Dan Rather, he was the face of the evening CBS news when I was a child. In fact, for the last 25 years in my house the name Dan Rather has been synonymous with current affairs and integral journalism. His voice brings me back to my parents living room, sitting on the couch impatiently listening to Mr. Rather recount the important events of the day before my parents would let me turn the channel to The Little House on the Prairie. His particular, lightly-doused Southern accent has not change an iota. I closed my eyes while he was talking and I was once again that little girl cross-legged on the carpet floor looking up at my parent’s small box TV in the corner by the fireplace.
During his talk, Mr. Rather spoke of how he stumbled upon his start in journalism, his early years in radio and his career as a TV journalist and anchor. He spoke of the criticism he encountered at the end of his career over the scandal regarding George W Bush’s military experience. Despite insisting that he has closed that chapter of his life and no longer feels any hostility about how the events took place in the now infamous Killian controversy, he does outline his point of view in ¼ of his new memoir. He explained, “Originally, I didn’t have any part of that story in my book, but early readers and editors said that people would want to know; and if I glazed over it, they would think I was hiding something.” Rather stands by his report.
Married for almost 60 years, Rather said his personal reasons for writing the book were to share all the stories his children and grandchildren ask him about while they’re enjoying a family BBQ. “What was it like, Grandpa, when you covered the first hurricane live and being in the jungles with the soldiers during Vietnam?” Or “What was it like to meet and grade all those presidents?”
Most fascinating of all for me was indeed the latter question as Rather’s met every president over the past 50 years. 50 years!
I realized that this man has lived through some of the most fascinating parts of modern American history; he’s been on the front lines. He was in Dallas when Kennedy was shot. He covered Nixon’s resignation and named George Bush Sr. one of the most intelligent statesmen this country has ever had. As he recounted his experiences with every president since Eisenhower, which he also explores in his memoir, Rather broke down into tears as he spoke of his experiences reporting on KKK rallies in Alabama in the early 1960s. His story-telling brought goose-bumps to my skin. Being a native Alabaman, I feel a special connection to and shame of this part of our collective history, even if it transpired well before I was born.
At 80 years old, Rather is still the spitting image of his younger self. He looks exactly as we remember him, those of us who grow up with is voice ringing through the house between 7 and 8 o’clock every weekday evening.
I asked my husband who would be the French equivalent to Dan Rather here in France. Patrick Poivre d’Arvor was his unequivocal answer.
Much like Rather, Mr. Poivre d’Arvor, or PPDA as he is known to his viewers, began his career as a journalist, moving his way up toward correspondent until he finally landed in the anchor chair of the evening news for almost 20 years. In 2008, he retired to focus on his writing. He is the author of over 50 books.
PPDA is a graduate of my alma mater here in France, l’Institut d’études politiques de Paris or Sciences Po as it is known nowadays. He received the Legion d’honneur in 2003 and this year he was nominated but overlooked for the 40th place in the Académie Française, arguably the most prestigious honor in French academia, literature and cultural life. Founded in the mid-1600s by Cardinal Richelieu under the reign of Louis XIII, the Academy is mandated with the task of protecting, standardizing and maintaining the French language. That’s quite the task. In the newest edition of the dictionary edited by the Academy, there are 3828 new words including prêt-à-porter (ready to wear clothes), biodegradable and pharmacodépendance. We can almost track human process through these additions to tour lexicon just as we can track American history through the life of Mr. Rather.
Dan Rather’s memoir, Rather Outspoken, published by Grand Central Publishing is now available for purchase.