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Howard Kurtz reports in his Media Notes column that veteran CBS correspondent Tom Fenton pulls few punches in his upcoming book Bad News, including shots across the bow of Dan Rather himself:
The book's instant headlines will probably come from "60 Minutes" commentator Andy Rooney, who 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!"
That's more than the CBS investigative panel ever said about Memogate's root cause. I find it fascinating that Rooney has more courage to speak out against Dan Rather's excesses and to identify the bias at the heart of his work than Dick Thornburgh or Louis Boccardi ever did. Rooney still collects a paycheck from CBS, while Thornburgh and Boccardi were supposedly independent. Why couldn't the lauded "independent" panel find the bias when Andy Rooney pointed it out for the world?
Fenton's book aims centrally at CBS, but on broader grounds than Memogate or bias. His main complaint is that corporate greed has killed the broadcast news industry, as network expectations of profit got sharper and staff cutbacks became a regular occurence:
Fenton blames "corporate greed" for the decline, 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.
Likening the practice to Dan Rather's use of what Fenton calls "phony" memos in the discredited story on President Bush's National Guard service, Fenton says the networks "take it on trust. Don't shoot it, don't report it -- just wrap it up and slap the CBS eye on it."
However, as we saw in the Memogate debacle, CBS screws up its in-house reporting as well. Mary Mapes didn't just buy the Killian memo story from some stringer; she went out and pursued it, employing several CBS resources to get whatever she could about Bush and the TexANG. She vetted the story and the source as a CBS producer, not an independent -- and the story turned out to do more damage than anything Fenton describes.
Fenton may have some good points about how the broadcast news business has fallen apart in the past generation. However, if he pretends that the issue is a lack of budgetary resources, he's kidding himself and us. He should listen more carefully to Andy Rooney, and that's advice I don't give out very often.Sphere It View blog reactions
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Tracked on January 25, 2005 6:08 PM
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