NEW YORK — Dan Rather believes the last presidential debate put many Americans to sleep.
The former CBS News anchorman said the formats for the debates are so restrictive that it’s tough to really call them debates. He blamed the campaigns for having too much influence in setting up the rules.
“These so-called debates are not for the people, by the people,” Rather said Tuesday at a conference on media and politics sponsored by CNN and Time magazine. “They are for the parties, by the parties.”
Rather’s one-time competitor, Tom Brokaw, was moderator of the second presidential debate between John McCain and Barack Obama. His former CBS News colleague Bob Schieffer is moderating the final debate Wednesday in suburban New York.
The 77-year-old Rather — who’s suing CBS for $70 million, claiming the network removed him from the “CBS Evening News” and gave him little to do in the wake of a discredited report about President Bush’s Vietnam-era military service — called it “standard procedure” for political campaigns to criticize the media when there are issues they don’t want to discuss, and most of the time it doesn’t work.
He called on reporters, however, to stand tall and ask tough questions. “The press should be fiercely independent, even ornery at times,” he said.
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