What's Wrong With CBS News?

According to Van Gordon Sauter, former CBS News Vice President:

"Well, for one thing, it has no credibility. And no audience, no morale, no
long-term emblematic anchorperson and no cohesive management structure. Outside
of those annoyances, it shouldn’t be that hard to fix."


Here’s the rest of his LA Times (01/13/05) Commentary:

Personally, I have a great affection for CBS News, even though I was
unceremoniously shown to the door there nearly 20 years ago in a tumultuous
change of corporate management.

But I stopped watching it some time ago.
The unremitting liberal orientation finally became too much for me. I still
check in, but less and less frequently. I increasingly drift to NBC News and Fox
and MSNBC.

Assuming for a moment that Van was a liberal when he worked for CBS, I’d like to know when his "liberal orientation" detector antenna went up. Perhaps it was just after being "shown the door"?

This week, when CBS News announced that four employees would
lose their jobs in connection with the George Bush National Guard story, I was
struck by how the network had become representative of a far larger, far more
troubling problem: A large swath of the society doesn’t trust the news media.
And for many, it’s even stronger than that: They abhor the media and perceive it
as an escalating threat to the society.

Yeah, that’s about right.

If it’s not stopped, the erosion
of a centrist organizing principle for the media will soon become a commercial
issue. Partisans will increasingly seek their news from blogs and websites and
advocacy publications. And the majority — those readers and viewers most
comfortable in the center — will try to find something … in the

And this is bad?

This will not be a problem initially for many big-city newspapers
that both lead and reflect their liberal constituencies. The New York Times, the
Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Boston Globe and the
Washington Post are all pretty much in sync with their hometown sentiments. But
there are problems looming for these papers. As the middle class surges into the
new exurbia, those liberal and sectarian perceptions will not travel well from
the city to the outskirts. Suburban papers, far more attuned to the local
sentiments, will be able to seize upon disaffection with the city

"The New Exurbia" – aka Jesusland.

Television’s situation is even more stark. There are now
true alternatives to the major network news programs. An English-style
partisanship is burgeoning on the tube. Don’t like those libs on CBS News? Go to
the conservatives on Fox. Find NBC News too "centrist"? Click to ABC News or
CNN. Can’t stand Rush Limbaugh and his bombastic conservatism? Head for the
liberal alternative, National Public Radio. Find them all heavy-handed oafs? Go
to the "news" with Jon Stewart and his merrymakers.

How many times did radio have to reinvent itself when television became ubiquitous?

At this stage, local
television news, the most heavily researched news product in the nation, clings
to the center, trusting that banality will trump opinion. Ultimately, if the
networks can’t reform themselves, this country will end up with just that: a lot
of scrupulously impartial (which is not necessarily to say good) news sources,
managed by research-driven executives who find it a good marketing approach.

Come on Van, the viewing/listening public will sort this out and choose the winners.

But my guess is that CBS Chairman Les Moonves, the most effective
executive in broadcasting today, will try to use the current frailty of CBS News
to reshape it. The insufferable hubris and self-righteousness of the
organization have been replaced by apprehension.

Although himself a
liberal, Moonves will mandate a clear and defensible center for the news
organization. CBS News long has been in third place — once an intolerable
position. Much of that disaffected audience must be restored if CBS News is to
be resurrected. Flavored news, of the right or left, won’t work. Networks must
offer nonpartisan, objective news.

Unlikely, as long as the same "culture" exists in the newsroom and the board room.

For CBS News, the only path back to
anything near first place will require a compass setting based in objectivity
and quality.

See previous comment.

Or it can sulk and feel victimized and drift even further
into a partisan milieu with an even smaller but highly dedicated

I’d bet on the former. The stockholders bought into
broadcasting. Not narrowcasting. The market will prevail.

In this case,
that’s a good thing. For CBS and for the news business.



  1. “It has no Credibility”

    Via PunditGuy “Well, for one thing, it has no credibility. And no audience, no morale, no long-term emblematic anchorperson and no cohesive management structure. Outside of those annoyances, it shouldn’t be that hard to fix.” -Van Gordon Sauter, former…

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