Dan Rather Scolds New Media for Caring About His ‘Watermelons’ Comments


Veteran journalist Dan Rather has penned a lengthy Huffington Post diary in defense of his "Obama couldn't sell a watermelon" remark that has received so much attention over the past few days.

I was talking about Obama and health care and I used the analogy of selling watermelons by the side of the road. It's an expression that stretches to my boyhood roots in Southeast Texas, when country highways were lined with stands manned by sellers of all races. Now of course watermelons have become a stereotype for African Americans and so my analogy entered a charged environment. I'm sorry people took offense.

Okay! That is a totally acceptable answer. Still not the greatest analogy, since hardly anyone outside of aged southern Texans would understand it, but fine. We're just glad Rather explained himself and understands why some people could have been offended. Unfortunately, he also felt compelled to throw in some completely off-base observations about why the media is really at fault.

In fact, the vast majority of Rather's non-apology was spent explaining why this incident is indicative of the sorry state of journalism.

I can understand why someone who just happened upon my comments could take offense or want clarification. But what has caused this comment to "go viral" is the trumpeting of an online and cable echo chamber that claims the banner of news but trades in gossip, gotcha, and innuendo. Furthermore, even for those who brook no prejudice, when everything is condensed to 140 characters or a small YouTube clip, many people who got this "news" did so without any context, just a headline that popped up on their phone or inbox ...

What saddens me is what this experience has made all too clear. Much of what we call news, isn't. Much of what we Tweet, or post, or chat away at under the guise of news, are distractions.

Rather then provides an example of what real news looks like:

While I appear on Matthews' show from time to time, that is not my day job. Together with a dedicated and talented staff, and under the unbending support of Mark Cuban, I put out a weekly news program on HDNet called Dan Rather Reports. If you want to see what I consider to be news, check it out or download it on iTunes. We just did a report on the travails of Afghan women — not the hottest Twitter topic....

These topics don't lend themselves to a five minute segment on a cable talk show or a short blog post. But they shape the lives of real Americans and people around the world.

For someone who's worked in the media his whole life, Rather either seems to have a pretty poor grasp of the Internet, or he's just searching for a scapegoat. No, Rather's "watermelon" remark isn't as important as the plight of women in Afghanistan, but luckily, it doesn't have to be. Simply put, the Internet is huge. There are websites that cover Afghanistan, and there are others that cover politics, media, or race — all topics that Rather's "watermelon" comment would fall under. Did the story belong on the front page of the Times? No. Did it belong on blogs? Sure, depending on the blog. We think the media would be pretty useless if every outlet was devoted to covering so-called "serious issues," and none were forcing notable public figures to account for their awkward, race-tinged comments. Or, for that matter, calling out President Obama for picking his nose.

And don't even get us started on Twitter. A very small fraction of users are tweeting "under the guise of news" in the way that Rather defines "news." They're tweeting things they find interesting, entertaining, funny, or otherwise worthy of sharing for whatever reason. If a prominent conservative had made a comment about Obama selling watermelons, we doubt Rather would have faulted anyone for taking interest. He doesn't get a pass just because he's Dan Rather.

Watermelons, Washington, and What We Call News Today [HuffPo]