The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Monday, January 17, 2005

Rathergate and the conglomeration of media

Just skimming the transcript of Howie Kurtz's latest televisual offering - all Rathergate - and find, from bit-player Joe Lockhart, a reply to the liberal newsroom charge:
But the media has changed. We're not talking about the media that, you know, you had three veteran correspondents on. The business they joined 30 years ago is nothing like the business is now. Media has consolidated. There are very serious corporate interests here. And these guys by and large are not a bunch of raging liberal Democrats who are making ultimate decisions. And they are more and more getting involved in how stories are covered and more importantly, what stories are covered.

Paradoxical that the Killian memo story should have shown CBS News as an organisation, at the margin, completely out of the control of its (I laughingly call) management.

No doubt, senior management elsewhere in the organisation have been letting off steam on the subject (those, for instance, responsible for shifting the Reagan mini-series off network TV (November 26 2003), or for allowing the Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction).

But the Rathergate failure was not an artefact of CBS News' membership of a diversified group. No Rupert Murdoch pulling strings for his cronies; no head office bean-counters slashing uncomprehendingly at necessary expenditures. Nothing here of that familiar story arc of the newsroom drama: a team of genuine, likeable, salt-of-the-earth reporters sacrificed by the deus ex Wall Street on the altar of Shareholder Value.

The problem was wholly internal to news production: a lack of editorial control. The gatekeepers within the CBS News operation - there were oh so many! - were either asleep at their posts or unconsciously complicit in the fabrication of Mary Mapes' fantasy segment [1].

(Strange thing: Mapes sees the red mist and goes out of control for days at a time; yet she's the opposite of a young Turk who knows no better - she's 48 years old, for crying out loud! And she's from Texas which is 254 counties chock full of nuts and crooks with a million tall tales to tell.

And along came Bill - Burkett, that is...)

There are mutterings from one or two about the possibility of Viacom selling off or closing down CBS News. Surely not: apart from the fact that it is still a decent revenue earner, the obloquy to be heaped on executives who demolished the House that Murrow Built would need compensating for by a whole herd of desperate-housewifely cash-cows.

(In fact, if I had the numbers to hand, I'd be interested whether or not there's been a ratings boost from rubber-neckers anticipating a slow-mo car wreck.)

  1. I've mentioned before the fact that hacks and talkers berating the media concentrate almost exclusively on the bylines (Wilgoren, say) and ignore the fact that she doesn't get a word in the Times without the say-so of a whole bunch of editors.

    The rule on TV is no pictures, no story: similarly, with the media it's no byline, no beef.


Apparently, a CNN/CBS News merger has been talked about before - in 2001, for instance; and this piece (undated) cites a Brill's Content (!) piece from Steve Brill himself:
"Unstoppable economic forces are driving CNN and CBS News into decline — or into each other's arms." In the article, titled "Must-merge TV," Brill says the marriage of "CNN and either CBS News or ABC News — more probably CBS — is almost inevitable."

And Dan Rather put in his two cents:
Appearing on CNN's highest-rated show, Larry King Live, CBS anchor Dan Rather described the article as "very thoughtful," adding, "I do agree with the premise that it would absolutely establish the world's premier newsgathering organization ... A lot of people are in the news-packaging business. Increasingly, that's the way the business has gone. To stay in the worldwide news-gathering business, I think, it would take a major step such as this, quite honestly, and it can't happen too quickly, as far as I'm concerned."

Meet my old pal, Ben Trovato...


In case you're interested, the Brill's Content site is no more; but some of it is preserved on the Wayback Machine (I loathe that geeky name!). Trouble is, you need URLs to search it.

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