I found out just a few days ago that Dan Rather was coming to town on a tour for his new book, "We Are United". I was surprised there were tickets left, especially for a DC stop, so I grabbed one. Then I talked myself out of staying home, which is difficult now that it gets dark right after lunch, and actually went downtown in the rain, on a week night. Then I scored a second row seat.
I was so proud of myself.
Then I listened to Mr. Rather talk with Washington Post opinion writer Jonathan Capehart for over an hour, about his book and reaching across generations on multiple viral Facebook pages, burning up the internet with a message of the importance of democracy and a free press and empathy and books and patriotism. I was two rows and a stage away from him, and he did not miss a beat. He turned 86 on Halloween. He reinvented himself in social after a 50-year career in print and broadcast journalism. He wrote a book and he's touring behind it, a book that doesn't ever once mention the name of the elected official whose election he has helped millions of people sort through, at the center of an online community that has done much to sustain a tiny bit of hope and a whole lot of commiseration, trolls and bots aside.
It occurred to me on the way home that I haven't been this excited about many of the concerts I've been to. I'm calling it: second row for post-election 2016 Dan Rather counts as an intellectual mosh pit. Where else does the crowd go nuts when the star extemporaneously riffs on the First Amendment for three minutes without taking much of a breath? On Dan Rather's book tour, that's where. When Capehart called for people in the audience to line up for questioning, the guy next to me bolted out of his seat, tripped over me, and took his jacket down with him like he was headed for the microphone and the rapture. I was too busy typing up quotes in my iPhone notes like I was getting paid to do it to be bothered by this. (I was not getting paid.) These are the times when you realize who you really are, and I am a news weirdo for life. I'm pretty sure my seat neighbor was too. My status was sealed when I was the only 15-year-old I knew reading Linda Ellerbee's "And So It Goes". And so it goes. And I almost stayed home. I wouldn't have known it, but if I had I should have kicked myself forever. Forget wanting to have Dan Rather's drive when I'm 86. I could take a few notes right now.
I'm going to share a few quotes I jotted down tonight. They are similar to his message on News and Guts, and I'm guessing from "We Are United", although I haven't read it yet. I got a copy tonight, so I'll know soon.
"These are dangerous, perilous times for our country. It's very important now more than any other time to ask of ourselves, how can I help someone else?...And bring it down to the local level every day. What can I commit to my community, school, government? What can I do for my neighbor? Particularly in today's environment, if you can make that a person who is a different race, religion or ethnic background than you, this will help you and also is a contribution to your country."
"The most powerful thing in a system such as ours is the ballot. To vote and do whatever you can to help someone else to vote is a major contribution to your country, and will be for the rest of your life."
"American journalism is in a form of interregnum -- the old order is gone, and the new order is not yet in place. This affects the quality of the news."
"You have an administration seeking to lead you to a post-truth era. This places heavy responsibility on each individual citizen. I have tremendous confidence in the American people. We're good at separating brass tacks from bullshine. It's a great challenge for individual citizens, but this effort to convince people that truth doesn't matter will not get very far. The tone and style of this president is not playing well with the American people."
"The White House press briefing is sometimes the theater of the absurd. It is an opportunity for individual reporters and various press and institutions to ask tough questions. Forcing the spokesperson to answer questions or make it clear that she is not going to."
"News is what the public needs to know that someone -- usually some powerful person -- doesn't want them to know. That's news. Most of the rest is just advertising."
"The president is not a sun god or a king. He is a regular citizen who has been elevated to the highest office in the country."
"I'm trying to elevate the level of discussion. Our spirit is what unites us. We must become much more civil in our discussions."
"I was introduced to the Houston Public Library when I was six years old, maybe seven. It was a transforming event in my life"
"With these kind of attacks on the press it's vital for the country to understand that it has to be unacceptable, because a truly independent press is the red beating heart of democracy. If we don't have it, we will not have the system of government we have now."