now the truth comes out
Dan Rather’s $70 million law suit against CBS News is going to pull back the curtain on a fact that everyone who works for network news knows, but until now, the public has had little exposure to.
What do these guys do for all their millions?
Journalism, it isn’t.
Most news stories and commentaries on the Rather suit have been preoccupied with the details of the Texas Air National Guard story – fake or real documents.
The more interesting issue, at least to me, is in the sidebar.
Faced with a problem, Rather now says “hey, I only read what the producers give me to read”.
Interestingly enough, this was the same defense when the Westmoreland case against CBS News hit the fan twenty years ago. Mike Wallace, who had been portrayed as the ‘investigative journalist’ in the story, in the courtroom became merely the ‘reader’. George Crile, the story’s producer, was left to roast on his own.
In the Tailwind case against CNN, ace reporter Peter Arnett said the same – “I only read the copy. I don’t write it, and I don’t do the reporting. Don’t blame me”.
Now Rather says the same:
“Rather contends that in fact he should not have been blamed for the botched Texas story because others, including his direct boss, Heyward, had taken over the process of vetting the story for airing–checking all the facts and the authenticity of the documents later found to be questionable. He had been relieved of that responsibly by Heyward in order to report on other breaking stories.” -The American Spectator. 9/20/07
One of the main reasons I left network news and went off with my own small camera was that these situations are not anomalies. They are, in fact, the way that network news works all the time. The producers do all the work, almost all the reporting, write the scripts. Then they shoot the ‘talent’ into the story and give them the scripts to read.
Sometimes the ‘talent’ makes a few changes – most times they don’t.
This is not journalism.
I mean, it is journalism for the producer.
In any other endeavour, when someone takes credit for someone else’s writing and reporting, we call it Plagiarism. Only on network news do we call it Journalism.
Why does this happen?
It’s pure economics.
Good reporting takes time. You have to be there and spend time with the story.
When you are paying reporters and anchors millions of dollars a year, they can’t spend too much time making any one story. It is not cost effective. You have to amortize out the cost of their salary over a lot of stories. The most cost effective way of doing this is to spread their cost over lots of stories, and hire producers to make them – just plaster the famous reporter/actor on top of them.
It works – from a business sense. But it is not journalism. It is acting.
Rather may have been a journalist once, but not for a long time. He was an actor. And like many actors, highly paid because he was recognizable.
But this isn’t journalism. It is Hollywood. And Hollywood is great at making movies. But it is crap for journalism.
You want journalism?
Give Dan a camera and a laptop.
Send him out to Afghanistan alone.
Give him lots of time.
See what comes back.
When you are a VJ, there is no place to hide.
And no one else to blame…. but yourself.