Real heroes don't broadcast it

Posted: Oct 26, 2001 12:00 AM
Will Dan Rather please shut up? The veteran teleprompter reader for CBS News wants Americans to know that when he sits behind his hollow anchor desk, he isn't just warming a chair. Rather actually fancies himself fighting on the front lines against terrorism. Under the headline "Dan Rather: I'm Defying Terrorists," a breathless Associated Press report on Wednesday detailed Rather's Herculean posturing. "CBS anchor Dan Rather says he won't be tested for anthrax or take antibiotics even though the deadly germ was found in his office," the report began. "It's his way of defying terrorists." From his air-conditioned foxhole in Manhattan, Rather boasted: "In wartime, I'm trying to respond to the situation with a mixture of good sense, defiance and, when I am called upon to deliver it, as much bravery as I can muster." Good grief. So the blow-dried TV blowhard shows up for his $7 million-a-year job, refuses to take medical precautions, and blabs about it to any fellow journalist willing to sit at his loafered feet and dutifully record his megalomaniacal meanderings. This is not bravery. It's a brazen attempt to boost the anemic ratings of CBS Evening News by exploiting the bad luck of Rather's assistant, who contracted the skin form of anthrax last week. How do we know Rather's telling the truth about not getting tested for anthrax? This is the guy who stood in Times Square just two years ago, pretending that the CBS television logo was emblazoned on a sign behind him -- when in fact, network techies had digitally altered the image. Rather has shown himself quite capable of misleading viewers to enhance "news value." Lest there be any doubt that the network is milking the incident to the max, witness Tuesday's broadcast of the CBS Morning News -- wherein teleprompter reader Julie Chen reported the national headline news of Rather's decision to go to work. "CBS News anchorman Dan Rather continues to use his office," Chen announced. What does he want, a Purple Heart? Acts of narcissism and manipulation among the media elite are nothing new. But Rather's blather is aggravating for another reason: It's part of a disturbing post-911 trend to cheapen the meaning of heroism. In a well-intentioned show of solidarity, everyone is declaring that "We are all New Yorkers now." But that doesn't mean we are all heroes now. Just getting out of bed in the morning does not a hero make. Nor does flying, volunteering or donating money to relief efforts. Nor does merely going to the office, be it a newsroom, mailroom or any other workplace. These are all fine acts of responsible citizens going about their business during a time of great strife. But they are not acts of heroism. For those who died and will die displaying true and uncommon valor in the war on terrorism, it is an abomination to loudly proclaim courageous what is merely commonplace. Yakking in front of a camera about the bona fide heroism of others does not qualify as heroism, either. Someone at NBC/MSNBC needs to deliver that message to reporter Ashleigh Banfield. Ms. Banfield got in the way of some falling debris while broadcasting near the World Trade Center's north tower when it collapsed. Media critics praised her performance. But nobody made more ado of the incident than Ms. Banfield herself. In fact, she thought her own bravery was so noteworthy that she included footage of herself in a Dateline NBC report on 9-11 heroes that aired Saturday. During an interview with a trio of rescuers who had gathered to watch videotape of the WTC collapse, Banfield narrated: "One week later, the three men met for the first time since this tragedy struck. For anyone caught in the cloud of evil that day, including me (whereupon Ms. Banfield inserted several seconds of her horrified face as dirt fell on her coifed head), the tape fills you with a sense of being there all over again. And that's not easy to watch." No, it wasn't. In their vulgar efforts to trumpet their own wartime intrepidity, Rather and Banfield fail to comprehend what distinguishes true heroes from the rest of us: quiet self-sacrifice and utter humility.