Posts from January 10, 2005

Good ol’ days

Good ol’ days

: TVNewser gets an exclu interview with the new CBS VP in charge of ass-covering, Linda Mason. She has been at the network since 1966! They didn’t exactly go for new blood and fresh perspectives and shaking things up, did they?

FoxNews’ Brigitte Quinn told me when we were off-camera today that when she was at CBS Radio, there was a separate society of Murrowites. I wonder whether Mason is one of them; she is of that vintage. The point: All the Murrow Legacy hooha is part of what’s wrong with CBS, I think; it’s part of the misguided belief that this is the Tiffany Network and that they can do no wrong. They most certainly can.

This isn’t about recapturing some good old day.’

This is about figuring out the tomorrow of news.

Mason says she wants CBS News to be transparent. Let’s help her define that.

: LATER: Jay Rosen and I agree that this is about rethinking the news business. He has a very good and very clear suggestion for where CBS should start: Publish complete interviews you conduct, CBS, and let us judge your selections.

Personally, I hope that broken contraption “trust us, we’re CBS,” forces the network into the clear skies of a new idea: We used to do our reporting in a way that required the public to trust us, the professional journalists. It worked for a while, but times and platforms change. Now we have to do our reporting in a way that persuades the public to trust us.

CBS News: are you up to it?

Right. Add that to the advice I gave here: Slice – Add – Link – Listen.

Media whiplash

Media whiplash

: Started the day on Air America’s Morning Sedition; sandwiched in FoxNews (for whom my primary value was that I was four blocks away); ended it with Hugh Hewitt.

I’m enjoying Morning Sedition’s Marc Maron and Mark Riley more every week. As we dissect media, sometimes we agree and sometimes we don’t. They’re good at radio.

I also have enjoyed two appearances on Hewitt’s show; he’s a radio pro who keeps things moving with good questions. We, too, disagree about some things and agree about others (namely, Dan Rather and blogs) but the discussion is good.

I bookmark the day with a liberal show and a conservative one but they’re both good at radio — at news — because they’re good at conversation.

The future

The future

: Pew just put up another big study of the future and the Internet, based on surveys with experts.

The fools

The fools

: Even the Rathergate Commission disses blogs. Andrew Sullivan found the quote on page 153:

This was followed on the morning of September 9 by further attacks, mostly by bloggers with a conservative agenda, challenging the authenticity of the documents. These included stories on Powerlineblog.com and littlegreenfootballs.com. Finally, by about 3 p.m., Matt Drudge, the author of the widely read Drudge Report website, had joined the fray, and, thereafter, the onslaught of attacks on the authenticity of the Killian documents was unrelenting.

“Bloggers with a conservative agenda”? How dare they? How about “bloggers who care about the truth”? Or “bloggers who care about reforming journalism”? Or “bloggers who can pound sand in a rathole, unlike Mr. Rather”? And how can they object, then, to people characterizing Rather — antimatter to bloggers’ matter in this case — as someone with a liberal agenda? What’s good for the goose is good for the goosed.

And how does the commission handle just that questionof CBS bias?

The Panel does not find a basis to accuse those who investigated, produced, vetted or aired the Segment of having a political bias. The Panel does note, however, that on such a politically charged story, coming in the midst of a presidential campaign in which military service records had become an issue, there was a need for meticulous care to avoid any suggestion of an agenda at work. The Panel does not believe that the appropriate level of care to avoid the appearance of political motivation was used in connection with this story.

I, of course, will take this a step further, believing in the need for and benefit of transparency, as I do. So don’t call it “bias.” Don’t call it “liberal.” Instead, we should expect Rather to give us his “perspective.” Do you like George Bush, Mr. Rather? Do you respect him? Do you think he is a good President? Do you believe he gave his full service in the military? That perspective unquestionably colors coverage and unless Rather and the producers are open about it, people are free to assume what their perspective is based on their actions. That’s the issue, guys.

It’s simplistic and insulting and wrong to dismiss the bloggers as people with a political “agenda.” And it’s also simplistic and insulting and wrong to expect the public to believe that you have no agenda.

Lots of people have agendas. The worst kind are the hidden ones.

: The other problem with trying to sum up either side in this in one word — “liberal” or “conservative” — is that it misses the far more subtle and important issue of the quality of the journalism, the credibility of the reporting, the service to the public. I had an email exchange with a CNN news producer I’ve come to respect after many long brainstorms about many stories and she said:

these are people who are good people who did their job less well than they should have but are NOT ideologically driven. i know mary murphy and betsy west well. josh howard is a mensch. what the bloggers don’t consider in covering this story is that all news now moves faster than the speed of thought. these people did an inadequate job in a very frantic and competitive environmnet. yes, they were making charges about a sitting president and i don’t condone their work. but mary and betsy have worked in news for many many years and their failure to ask the right questions in a timely fashion should not obscure their enormous contributions over the long haul. at the end of the day these people are– like everyone else– just people. they weren’t on top of their game. they engaged in group think. but the one’s i know are not partisans. and to have this story become a defining moment for them and for the network they work for seems to me to be wrong.

There are bigger issues here — and bigger lessons to learn! This is also about improving and protecting the service of journalism.

: This producer said — just as the Brigitte Quinn said when we were off-camera on FoxNews this morning — that we’ve all made mistakes in our careers. So on the one hand, that makes us loathe to pile on Rather and the CBS producers. But on the other hand, it’s all the more reason to be open and transparent about the mistakes.

CBS’ and Rather’s real sin — and too often journalism’s real sin — is hubris: the belief that we’re right and we don’t make mistakes and we don’t need to explain ourselves. That is precisely what is wrong here.

If — as I’ve said before — Rather had come out as soon as the bloggers caught the apparent — obvious — forgery and said, “Thank you; let’s get to the truth together,” people wouldn’t necessarily like him any better, but they’d respect him more. If these producers and their bosses — the finger-pointing, buck-passing ones still employed — had come out immediately and acknoweldged their screw up, I’ll bet they’d all be not only wiser but still employed today. But they didn’t. They hid behind their hubris and the belief that they don’t make mistakes. We all do. The sooner we own up to them, the better it is for our credibility.

: LATER… Chicken: Drudge says Rather is taking the day off.

: LATER STILL… I’m scheduled to be on Hugh Hewitt’s show re Rather at about 8:40p ET.

More Rathergate

More Rathergate

: Just got off FoxNews; going back, probably, in the 2pm hour. The reporter there, who got to read the report while I was blabbing, said they commission did not conclude that the memoes were forged. Jeesh.

I see that the report is calling for more commissions and committees and all that — which is just the wrong thing to do: It puts yet more distance between the journalists and the public they are supposed to serve. They should be doing just the opposite: tearing down the walls, making journalists responsible for interacting with the public.

This is bigger than Dan Rather. This is bigger than CBS News. This is about the news and the new relationship — the conversation — journalism must learn to have with the public, or the public will go have it without them.

: Of course, RatherBiased.com has lots of analysis. Good stuff.

I’m sitting in a Cosi and keep trying to download the full report but Acrobat keeps crapping out on me. Grrrrr. UPDATE: Got it.

: Joe Gandelman says Rather got off easy. Knowing Joe, I’ll bet he’ll compile lots of links. Ditto TVNewser, of course.

: Sisu grabs on a quote from FoxNews: Bloggers are like a bar.

: Can some nice soul videotape FoxNews from 2-3p ET?Nevermind. They found some other bloggers. I won’t be on Fox at 2.

: Andrew Tyndall of the Tyndall Report says in the comments:

Talk about burying the lead: “Dan Rather does not appear…to have even seen the Segment before it aired.”

CBS News did not have to hire a high-priced inside-the-Beltway law firm to conclude that fundamental journalistic procedures were violated and that the three executives and one producer involved need to lose their jobs. President Andrew Heyward had all the authority to do that internally last fall.

So why spend thousands of dollars on this 274-page report?

My answer is that the only way Heyward and Rather get to keep their jobs is if outsiders allow them to do so. For them to stay at CBS News without an external imprimatur would have looked like a whitewash.

Yet the report itself goes into picayune detail about the actions of Mary Mapes and the others and spends very little time on Heyward and Rather.

Heyward twice instructs his Vice President Betsy West to get on top of this story: two days before it airs she is told to “defend every syllable” and two days after she is told to “come up with new and substantive information” to authenticate the segment.

West fails to follow either instruction. The panel concludes it is her fault. Heyward’s management style is not addressed.

As for Rather, he puts his name to a discredited report for 60 Minutes and his reward, after leaving his job as CBS Evening News anchor, is to keep his job as correspondent for 60 Minutes!

Let’s not forget that back in last September both the Wednesday and Sunday editions of 60 Minutes were being aired under the same logo (no Roman numeral II, no day of the week suffix). Yet the panel’s report rewrites history by giving Wednesday program a separate name from the Sunday one, a change which was instituted only after this scandal broke. CBS News should be grateful for the panel’s efforts at keeping its Sunday jewel untarnished.

This was not the biggest favor the panel handed CBS News management, however. In its depiction of Rather’s workload–scurrying from Convention to hurricane while squeezing in a couple of hours to work on the Mapes piece–we see a once-major news division operating on a shoestring. The panel does not address the extent to which CBS News’ errors arise from its management’s decisions to scale back its resources–decisions made under Heyward’s leadership.

Great post. CBS and Heyward’s reaction to this — after the Nixonian coverup period — was corporate buckpassing and fingerpointing… rather than trying to fix the problem — and, more ambitiously, to reinvent news.

: Memorandum has a great pileup of comment.

: Here’s Mark Tapscott’s comments.

: Rathergate, of course, has more.

Here goes the CBS axe

Here goes the CBS axe

: CNN just announced that three execs at CBS — including the top two producers of 60 Minutes II — have been asked to resign and the fourth, Mary Mapes, was fired. Here’s the report at CBS.

: Speaking of Dan — and we’ll be doing a lot of that this week, I suspect — there are some incredible (as in incredibly numbnutty) quotes from him on covering the tsunami in today’s NY Times:

“It’s very difficult, perhaps impossible, from the outside to understand the conflicting undertows that go through you as a journalist,” Mr. Rather said. “Flying out, I’m saying to myself, ‘They’re talking about death tolls that are practically impossible to imagine.’ At the same time, you’re saying to yourself, ‘What a story.’ ”

“There is no place else I’d want to be,” he added. “I literally say a prayer of thanks every day in order to have this work. A story like this is why you get in the business.”

First, the “undertow” reference is about as stupid and insensitive as Jonathan Klein’s “flood the zone” maximalaprop.

But what’s worse is that last line. Let’s play a little word substitution. What he’s saying there is this: The horrendous deaths of more than 150,000 innocent souls is why you get in the business.

Of course, the real reason Dan loves this story is that he hopes it is the story he’s covering as he leaves, not the journalistic scandal he abetted at his own network.

: I was supposed to get that report. I don’t have it yet. CBS starts quoting it before the rest of the world got it:

The action was prompted by the report of an independent panel that concluded that CBS News failed to follow basic journalistic principles in the preparation and reporting of the piece. The panel also said CBS News had compounded that failure with

Fertilizing citizens’ media

Fertilizing citizens’ media

: The J-Lab and Jan Schaffer have announced the details of their program to give grants to citizens’ media projects. If you have a great project and need a little (not much) seed money, go there. I am on the advisory board, by the way.

: Link fixed now. Sorry!!!