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January 11, 2005
Heyward Not Out Of The Woods Yet: NYT

The fallout from the Thornburgh-Boccardi report continues today with a moderately critical analysis from the New York Times' Bill Carter. Carter notes that the once-glorious CBS News division now suffers from a badly-damaged morale, with people questioning why division president Andrew Heyward avoided any disciplinary action whatsoever. Carter notes that staff discontent has caused other executives to make unplanned departures and wonders what the future has in store for Heyward:

What exactly that will mean is still uncertain, though several staff members reported the morale in the department to be devastatingly low. "We are all sad and miserable," said one CBS production staff member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect against criticism from superiors at the network.

One lingering question is how much accountability should be laid at the feet of Andrew Heyward, the president of the division. In several of the prominent journalism scandals that have surfaced recently - at USA Today and The New York Times - the top executives were eventually forced out.

The dissatisfaction of the news staffs played a role in both those developments.

Several CBS News staff members continued to question Mr. Heyward's level of responsibility yesterday. One said the feelings of the staff toward him were mixed, with some wondering how everyone under him could be blamed and not him, and others hoping he would survive because the news division could not take any more losses. Mr. Heyward declined to comment.

According to Carter, staffers wonder at their ability to break news in the future with the Mapes debacle hanging over their heads. CBS pulled a second story critical of Bush and the Iraq decision shortly after the scandal broke, and to this date has not aired it. CBS has not commented on its reasoning, but clearly its management won't take the same risks that allowed Mapes' political hackery to air in the middle of a presidential election.

Nor does everyone buy the Thornburgh-Boccardi meme that political bias had no part in the story, at least on the part of Mapes. Alex Jones, a media expert at Harvard University, found the argument "foolish" and counterproductive (my analyis on bias can be found here):

Ms. Mapes, who lives in Texas, was also known inside CBS for her long-time aggressive coverage of President Bush, going back to his days as governor. Though Mr. Moonves and other CBS executives yesterday pointed to the panel's exoneration of the network on charges of political bias against the president, not everyone agreed that it played no role at all.

"It sounds like you had a star reporter here who fell in love with a story," Mr. Jones said. "Her previous work had given her a reputation sufficient to bowl over everyone else. It seems like it was a combination of competitive pressure, hubris and a little politics. I think it's foolish to separate this entirely from politics, no matter what the report says. All in all that's a witches' brew."

In a strange but compelling explanation, Carter relates a comment from a CBS staffer that they feared Mapes more than Heyward. That certainly would explain the lack of attention that Heyward received when he reportedly told 60 Minutes Wednesday producers to carefully vet the documents associated with the story, as they would have to authenticate "every syllable" once the story hit. Not only did no one at CBS appear to pay attention to him, but they went out of their way to violate his order. If that describes Heyward's influence on the division accurately, then Moonves should have terminated him along with the other four. Executives with no internal respect have little chance of forcing any change, and clearly no one respects Andrew Heyward inside CBS News.

It may not matter anyway, according to despondent CBS staffers. Despite Moonves' cheery memo yesterday promising a return to glory, the CBS News staff sees their day fading quickly into a sunset:

"We have no juice," the staff member said. "We're a dying business, and this didn't help us. Some people feel like CBS News could be out of business in five years."

After the Mapes debacle and CBS' insistence on avoiding the central cause of it, that may be the best analysis I've yet read.

UPDATE: Ace of Trump says the Gray Lady changed this story significantly since its first publication. My, my, my. Don't they ever learn?

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 11, 2005 5:32 AM

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