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December 5, 2004
Tiffany Network Doing More Streetwalking For Viacom

The Hollywood Reporter analyzes the relationship between CBS News and its parent, Viacom, in the latter's promotion of its assets. Earlier this year, the news show 60 Minutes raised eyebrows throughout the media world when they interviewed Richard Clarke and helped him promote his new book -- without revealing that Viacom published Clarke's book through one of its publishing subsidiaries. The Hollywood Reporter (via Netscape News) informs us that this practice continues at CBS even tonight, with their highly-promoted interview of singer Bob Dylan:

A "60 Minutes" interview with Bob Dylan that was set to air Sunday about his new autobiography marked the third Simon & Schuster book this year to get exposure on television's most venerated newsmagazine.

The publisher's marketing department might want to take all the credit. But it probably doesn't hurt that S&S and the network "60 Minutes" calls home, CBS, are owned by the same parent company, Viacom. The newsmagazine stirred up angst among media watchdogs in March for not disclosing that fact on-air during a report on the S&S-published book about the Bush administration by former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke.

After the Clarke flap, "60 Minutes" made sure to include a disclaimer before an April segment on another S&S book, from Bob Woodward. But considering the frequency with which the disclaimer has been used in recent months, including with Dylan, it seemed as familiar a refrain as "Like a Rolling Stone."

Other recent Viacom/CBS cross-promotions on 60 Minutes include profiles on Jim Carrey, Matt Parker, and Trey Stone at the same time their Paramount films premiered. Paramount is, of course, a subsidiary of Viacom. They've interviewed Comedy Channel stars Jon Stewart and Dave Chappelle and reported on the game show "Jeopardy!", all Viacom assets.

If it seems like a sellout ... well, of course it is. None of the above stories represented breaking news or earthshaking events, and for a telemagazine such as 60 Minutes, they appear pretty lightweight. Even so, not only did the show cough up their valuable air time for Viacom promotions, CBS in turn heavily promoted those segments during their other shows, in effect doubling down on the cross-promotional effort. For instance, during the NFL game on CBS today, viewers constantly saw ads for the Bob Dylan interview with the come-on line, "Why is Bob Dylan giving his first television interview in 19 years?" Until and unless they watched 60 Minutes tonight -- or read this article -- they woulnd't find out that it's because Viacom has published his autobiography through Simon and Schuster.

CBS News has taken the reputation of its storied past and thoroughly sold it out in 2004. Under these circumstances, the puzzling behavior of Dan Rather and Mary Mapes in the Memogate scandal becomes more clear. The brass at CBS has used 60 Minutes to sell out to Viacom's commercial interests -- why shouldn't Rather and Mapes do the same for their political interests? The once-dominant and admirable news division, the House that Edward R. Murrow built, has transformed itself into a corporate shill, and its denizens understand that better than their viewers.

Rumors have it that the independent investigation into the Memogate fiasco is close to its conclusion and that the report will shortly be released. In the past, I've argued that both Dan Rather and CBS News president Andrew Heyward should be forced out. While I still believe that, it's apparent that the news division has been co-opted by Viacom and that such a move will likely have little effect on CBS Nesws.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at December 5, 2004 8:25 PM

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