CBS Goes Into the Tank

This week brought more than one example of the sort of thing that Campaign Desk (soon to be renamed), with its new mandate to critique all of purportedly serious journalism, hopes to dissect and deconstruct in the days, weeks and months to come. But one transgression especially stands out, and consequently we’d like to announce the first winner of the MBDW (Most Boneheaded Decision of the Week) Award, which we hope will become a regular feature.

That would go to the anonymous CBS executive who axed the producer who had the temerity to cut into Wednesday night’s prime-time programming to report the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

That staffer, a senior producer for CBS’s overnight newscast Up to the Minute, broke in to the popular drama show “CSI” shortly before 11 p.m. Wednesday, with the news that Arafat, a disruptive world figure for decades, had expired. That outraged “CSI” devotees, engrossed in the pretense being spun out before their eyes, and incensed that the final minutes of the crime drama were interrupted with news from the real world.

We’ll buy CBS’s assertion that “an overly aggressive staffer jumped the gun on a report that should have been offered to local stations for their late news” reports, scheduled to take over the TV screen just minutes after “CSI” ended.

But please: Firing a producer for having the temerity to momentarily interrupt a fantasy program with a piece of news certain to change the world as we know it?

You know in your bones that such a decision has to give pause to any producer or reporter at CBS News who ever imagined that “news” matters to Viacom, the corporate conglomerate that owns CBS, and that clearly considers CBS News to be a minor attraction in its array of entertainment enticements offered up each day to a national public.

We’re not naive; we know that the prevailing formula is “Bread and Circuses.” But couldn’t Viacom, just this once, have leaned toward bread?

Steve Lovelady

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Steve Lovelady was editor of CJR Daily.