Project 21 New Visions


Bob Parks

Dan Rather, From Buckwheats to Watermelons

by Bob Parks (bio)

Dan Rather, the former CBS newsreader now relegated to HDNet, isn't impressed with President Obama's ability to sell his policies to Congress.

Rather recently told MSNBC's Chris Matthews that Obama "couldn't sell watermelons if it, you gave him the state troopers to flag down the traffic."

My boss, Media Research Center president Brent Bozell, doesn't think Rather is a racist. But Rather's faux pas shouldn't be treated as an isolated incident.

It was not.

Rather made his most recent regrettable comments about Obama during a panel discussion on the March 7, 2010 "Chris Matthews Show." When he began his thoughts with a Biden-esque windup about Obama being "articulate" and a "nice person," I could tell trouble was brewing. That's when the watermelon line slipped into the conversation.

It's clear Matthews knew this would end bloody when he attempted to cut Rather off and stave off any further damage.

I initially thought Matthews' failure to post the segment in the Internet (including this arguably racist slur against the President of the United States) was an oversight. Then I remembered that Chris Matthews said he forgot Barack Obama was black back during coverage of Obama's State of the Union Address.

My bad.

With all due respect to my boss, this is not Rather's first foray into what some have consider insensitive statements.

In 2001, during the controversy over then-Congressman Gary Condit (D-CA) and then-missing intern Chandra Levy, Rather was kind of upset that his CBS bosses succumbed to public pressure and forced him to report a scandal he selectively sat on for two months.

During an interview with talk radio host Don Imus on July 19, 2001, Rather said: "What happened was [CBS management] got the willies, they got the buckwheats. Their knees wobbled and we gave it up."

Granted, there are many definitions of the term "buckwheats" ranging from inflicting a slow and painful death to a racial slur named after the "Little Rascals" character.

One can argue Rather is not a racist. But there is still the question of his competence in the art of the ad lib. As a celebrated, allegedly seasoned news professional, one would have to ask Dan after he made those remarks, "What were ya thinkin'?"

I look at it this way: Would Dan Rather have made either of those comments on Black Entertainment Television, or addressing an NAACP convention? I think not.

For Rather to make those comments when he did implies that he felt safe in the company he was in — which may also say something about Chris Matthews and the panel (fellow members of the media elite Andrea Mitchell of NBC, Joe Klein of Time magazine and Katty Kay of the BBC).

To state the obvious, had any white conservative said the same thing, instead of omitting the segment's posting on his website, Matthews would likely have screamed about how that conservative's words represented of the thinking of the tea parties and the Republican Party. Anything less than that person's firing and lifetime societal banishment would be too little, too late.

In typical liberal media fashion, it instead seems that they feel that if they ignore something embarrassing to them it will all go away. Their problem is that the New Media doesn't observe their protocol, and the New Media reported it and won't let the slight pass unnoticed. Chris Matthews, however, will continue to use black people for partisan gain — and Dan Rather will not lose what little job he has left.

I'm personally tired of all this because it always ends the same way. If anything, it defines why there will continue to be a racial divide in America.

Racism will never be eradicated when one side can — and always will — excuse the indiscretions of their own.

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Bob Parks is a member of the national advisory council for the Project 21 black leadership network and operates the Black and Right web site (  Comments may be sent to [email protected].

Published by The National Center for Public Policy Research. Reprints permitted provided source is credited. New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21 or the National Center for Public Policy Research.

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