Monday, January 24, 2005

CBS News takes it on the chin again

Another damning indictment against network news - and in particular CBS News - this time from veteran CBS foreign correspondent Tom Fenton, whose new book "Bad News" is soon to be published. The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz calls it "a stinging indictment that gains force from [Fenton's] quarter-century of service in CBS's London bureau." Then Kurtz gets to some of the juicy bits, including:

  • "Fenton blames [corporate greed] for the decline [of CBS], saying he was 'beaten down by the corporate bean counters' and had 'so many of my stories rejected' in the decade before 9/11. CBS's London bureau, he writes, 'doesn't do much reporting any more. What it does is called packaging,' assembling video and facts gathered by outside organizations."
  • "In late 1996, ... Fenton pitched his network on a plan to use Saudi connections to land an interview with Osama bin Laden. 'Our bosses saw him as an obscure Arab of no interest to our viewers,' Fenton says. 'More concerned with saving dollars than pursuing the story, they killed the project.'"
  • "In a 1988 report on Saddam Hussein's poison gas attacks in northern Iraq, Fenton says CBS asked him to delete the fact that thousands of victims were Kurdish because 'no one knows who the Kurds are.'"
  • "CBS now has [only] 10 full-time foreign correspondents in London, Rome, Tel Aviv and Tokyo -- no one, for example, in China or Russia. ... Fenton notes that in the first 10 months of 2004, the 'CBS Evening News' ran four stories from China, two of them about pandas."
  • "'60 Minutes' commentator Andy Rooney ... tells Fenton there is 'no question' the media are liberal and takes a swipe at Rather: 'I think Dan has been -- I don't know why; he may not be as smart as they think -- but he has been so blatantly one-sided. . . . He uses little words that are absolute clues, giveaways to his political opinions. Like saying "Bush," instead of "President Bush" or "Mr. Bush." . . . A couple of years ago I heard him refer to "Bush's cronies." Well, Jesus, "cronies" -- oh dear!'"
  • "Longtime '60 Minutes' producer Don Hewitt (who says he once offered to give back one-sixth of his $6 million salary if it were spent on news but was told that wouldn't happen) has lost interest in the 'CBS Evening News,' saying such broadcasts have become 'wallpaper' in a world of 24-hour information. And Walter Cronkite says he does not regularly watch the newscast he once headed because 'there's nothing there but crime and sob sister material . . . tabloid stuff.'"

Does CBS News still have anything going for it? Is Fenton right or is he a disgruntled former employee? Well, probably both. He certainly joins a long line of veteran journalists and newsmen, from Fred Friendly on, who have criticized the news media heavily. Still, Kurtz at least notes the other side of the argument. He reminds us that:
    the top story on the "CBS Evening News" last year was the Iraq war and reconstruction, according to the Tyndall Report newsletter, which found that the program provided more coverage than its rivals. CBS executives say the company has provided additional millions of dollars to cover the aftermath of the war in Iraq, where Rather will anchor this week. "All you have to do is look at any of our broadcasts to see the commitment we have to international news," says Senior Vice President Marcy McGinnis. "It's huge."


Post a Comment

<< Home