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Newsman Rather Tells Americans Ask More Questions Thu May 16, 7:49 PM ET

LONDON (Reuters) – Veteran U.S. news anchor Dan Rather warned Americans on Thursday not to let patriotism in the wake of the September 11 attacks stop them from asking tough questions of President Bush (news – web sites) and his “war on terror.”


Reuters Photo Speaking to the BBC’s Newsnight current affairs program, Rather said the heightened sense of patriotism after September 11 risked getting out of control, and stopping the press from holding the government to account over its war in Afghanistan (news – web sites).

“I worry that patriotism run amok, will trample the very values that the country seeks to defend,” said the CBS newsman, whose steely manner and professionalism became a symbol of America’s resilience in the dark days after September 11.

“In a constitutional republic, based on the principles of democracy such as ours, you simply cannot sustain warfare without the people at large understanding why we fight, how we fight, and have a sense of accountability to the very top.” Rather admitted that journalists, himself included, often felt under pressure to pull their punches for fear of being branded unpatriotic — the equivalent of having a “flaming tire” hung around their neck.

“One finds oneself saying “I know the right question, but you know what? This is not exactly the right time to ask it,” he said.

“What we are talking about here — whether one wants to recognize it or not, or call it by its proper name or not — is a form of self-censorship,” said Rather.

He also accused the Bush administration of giving news organizations too little access and information, which he said went directly against the Pentagon (news – web sites)’s stated policy of giving “maximum information and maximum openness” about the war.

“There has never been an American war, small or large, in which access has been so limited as this one,” he said.

The news black-out was allowing those in charge, who were putting the lives of American servicemen and women at risk, to hide, he said.

“Limiting access, limiting information to cover the backsides of those who are in charge of the war, is extremely dangerous and cannot and should not be accepted,” he said.

The more the American public swallowed the official line under the banner of patriotism, the more government accountability would suffer, Rather said.

“I am sorry to say that…overwhelmingly it has been accepted by the American people. And the current administration revels in that, they relish that, and they take refuge in that.” He also panned the increasing “Hollywoodization of war” that is sweeping across the U.S. media, with hit shows such as VH1’s ‘Military Diaries’, featuring real soldiers talking frankly about their experiences on Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan.

“I want to say quietly, but as forcefully as I can, that I hope this doesn’t go any further. It has gone too far already. I am appalled by it, I do think it’s an outrage,” he said.