Dan Fost
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
(03-14) 04:00 PDT Austin, -- Talking with Dan Rather

Texas -- At first blush, 75-year-old former CBS anchorman Dan Rather seemed a strange choice for a keynote conversation at a technology conference.

But when you think about it, it made perfect sense for Rather to take the stage Monday at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival. Rather, after all, ultimately departed CBS after undergoing scathing attacks from the blogosphere for his role in a documentary about President Bush's military service, and he is now anchoring a weekly show on Mark Cuban's HDNet.

Oddly enough, his SXSW interviewer, filmmaker Jane Hamsher, didn't ask about those topics. She focused instead on tales of his Watergate reporting and his views on the state of American journalism. (Those views include the notion that corporate owners of the media are too big and powerful, and don't fund enough investigative journalism.)

I caught up with Rather afterward, interviewing him as he moved through the halls and listening in on an interview he did with Amanda Congdon for ABC News online.

Why is he at HDNet?

"First and foremost, Mark Cuban, in our first meeting, said, 'I'll give you my word: You will have total, complete and absolute editorial control.' That is unique in my experience. I don't know anybody who has that," Rather said.

In addition, he said, "This is a frontier. If there's a new frontier out there, let's explore it. I like the challenge, the sense of adventure."

Does he get much feedback on it? "I'm not much of a big believer in feedback," he said. "You can hurt yourself by paying too much attention to it."

After the keynote, he had some alarming feedback when an angry man in a T-shirt proclaiming "9/11 was an inside job" accosted him. "It comes with the territory," Rather said afterward. "I keep an open mind. If you have facts, send me facts."

Did bloggers bring him down? "Others will have to judge that," he said. "President (Dwight) Eisenhower once said, 'You should not miss an opportunity to keep your mouth shut.' This is going to be one of those times."

But he did add: "We did our best on that story. ... Did we speak the truth, or did those who attacked us speak the truth? I'll let history be the judge."