One Newsman, 11 Presidents & A Century of Election News Technology Shifts: Dan Rather at SXSW


Dan Rather

Yesterday saw the start of SXSW Interactive, which we’re attending to showcase CreditHQ ahead of a U.S. launch, so I took the opportunity to get to one of the main opening keynotes –  Dan Rather’s talk on how digital technologies have transformed American media and journalism.

I’d been expecting less of a queue due to the clash with President Obama’s keynote around the same time, but hundreds turned out to see what the legendary newscaster had to say about the upcoming election – and most specifically as it turned out, Donald Trump.

The queues were possibly because of the recent movie ‘Truth’, or more likely because of Dan Rather’s famed technique of pushing the boundaries when it came to investigative journalism (for example – the infamous George Bush interview in 1988).

There’s been a lot said (stated Rather), of the media’s (or the press’) role in the election and most tellingly of allowing Donald Trump the platform on which to stand – but, he argued, it’s the public who are partly responsible for allowing Trump to continue to get all of the ‘free tv’ time he’s getting. Why is this? Mainly, said Rather, because the public aren’t lobbying the TV networks and getting them to hold Trump accountable for his outlandish statements and bigoted views.

It’s a question of ‘accessibility’. Rather explained how Trump is a master of television and knows the economics behind it – networks all want and need to make money, an interview with Trump boosts their ratings, and they know what NOT to ask in order to get repeat interviews from Trump. The public aren’t seeing through this enough and are allowing reporters to ask diluted questions, rather than grill him on his campaign ‘promises’ and statements. Which TV journalist has grilled him on his failed businesses for example – after all, one of the things his supports often quote is of him being a fantastic businessman! (not to mention the bankruptcies).

Rather pointed out that in this election, there’s been a lot said about how it will be won on social media – and which camp can create the most influential content either positively or negatively about themselves or their opponent. However, he argued – a huge proportion of the United States don’t have access to ipads, iphones, computers (modern gadgets as he likes to call them), so a large percentage of the population are voting for the person or character they see through their tv screens – and THIS is how Trump is winning over a heck of a lot of people.  The American public, Rather said, LOVE a ‘big man’ – a John Wayne, a Rhett Butler and this is where Trump’s egotistical, no-nonsense tone resonates. Many are voting for him purely because of his rhetoric, rather than what he’s actually saying – or don’t pay attention to the number of times he’s gone back on previous statements to fit with his personal agenda.

As someone from across the pond, watching the U.S. election with fascination (and horror when it comes to Trump), Rather made a hell of a lot of sense about how TV is still a massive influence in today’s society – and most importantly, how the public really need to wake up and demand the tv networks start to criticise and question not just publicise for their own benefit.


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