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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Good for Dan Rather: CBS Deserves To Be Sued

A brief note of support:

Dan Rather is 100% justified in filing a 70 million-dollar lawsuit against CBS. Instead of standing by its reporter, after its own two-member panel could not say for sure that the report Rather went on the air with was false, CBS hung Rather out to dry, and in so doing damaged both his reputation and his potential for future employment.

CBS damaged its own reputation and its legacy even more.

CBS just celebrated its 80th anniversary the other day. William Paley must be turning over in his grave about CBS did to Dan Rather. His law suit is a small way of rectifyng that.


Robert K. Blechman said...

I worked as a financial analyst at CBS News in the early 1980s when it was tolerated as a cost center, but still was the jewel in the corporation’s crown. I participated in cost-cutting moves intended to make CBS News generate a profit, just like other CBS divisions. Prior to this, CBS News was based on a print model where certain standards of journalism were acknowledged, if not always adhered to. The new information environment of broadcast journalism required a subtle (or perhaps not so subtle) change in journalistic practices and created a gap between what the public wanted to know and what the public needed to know.

Another way of looking at this is to say that CBS News under William Paley aspired to the print model of journalism, while CBS since Lawrence Tisch has adopted broadcast standards that have more to do with ratings than with writings.

This journalism standards gap, being environmental, was largely invisible until the advent of the Internet. The “amateurs” of this new media environment have brought this gap to the foreground, focusing our attention on the unexamined compromises of mainstream media news that have little to do with “real” journalism.

My son, Alexander, recently pointed out to me the differences in the narrative biases of print vs. broadcast media. Print allows the author to create a scene, to develop a narrative based on complex situations and subtle character interactions. Film and broadcast narratives don’t have time for this. Instead, they focus on creating a hero. Dan Rather, who ascended to the CBS anchor chair during this "print to broadcast" transition period, has almost always tried to stay true to print journalism standards. I'm not saying he always succeeded, but he tried. His early work on CBS Reports adhered to the earlier approach. His stint as anchorman often descended into personal heroics. That Rather would follow the path of the hero (see Joseph Campbell) in being pilloried by the CBS brass is perhaps ironic, but not unexpected.

Paul Levinson said...

Excellent analysis, Bob - you should put it up as a blog post - let me know when you do, and I'll link to it, Digg it, etc.

Most astute analysis I've seen of the decline of CBS, and the rough ending for Dan Rather, I've seen.