Anchor's Astray

Portentous televisual presence Dan Rather is now penning a syndicated newspaper column for King Features. His thoughts, unaccessorized by his craggy countenance or the practiced gravitas of his voice, are remarkably lightweight; it's apparently his intention to help imbue print journalism with the incisive vacuity of TV news. Print journalism, of course, does not need much additional help in this regard, but Rather's slight contribution is appreciated nonetheless.

Yesterday's column was a don't-stop-the-presses release regaling the power of TV via handy mouthpiece Madaleine Albright. Here she cannily opines on the power of the one-eyed monster: "If the great mass of Americans are to be engaged in our decisions as a nation - as they must - then television exposure of the issues is absolutely vital."

Hmmm. Maybe she's got something there.

Rather blathers with unchecked enthusiasm over Albright's talking doll appeal; she's the first television secretary of State, he declares (the helpful italics are his), because "whatever the subject, she can talk it long or talk it short. You just tell her how you want it talked. And short sound bite or long historical soliloquy, she knows how to keep it interesting."

What Rather never gets around to contemplating, however, are the implications or consequences of Albright's televisual appeal. Not enough space for historical soliloquies, I guess.

As a prose stylist, America's favorite teleprompter reader is a natural born space-filler. His use of cliché suggests an unadulterated laziness: "She got to be secretary of State the old-fashioned way: She earned it." His command of the rimshot adverb is entirely commonplace: "All the while, she studied television, too. Closely." His deployment of the alarmingly banal thinsight suggests not even the slightest trace of intellectual ambition: "She has a genuine presence, a kind of physical charisma - always a useful asset on television (and a necessary one in other fields such as acting or preaching)."

Is it truly possible this on-the-airhead is one of the most respected figures in his profession?

Word of advice on future columns, Mr. Rather: talk it short. Talk it real short.

-- G. Beato

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