Published on Wednesday, September 29, 2004 by the Toronto Star
Gunshy CBS to Sit on Iraq Story
by Antonia Zerbisias
Since Sept. 8, the CBS memo drama concerning George W. Bush's National Guard service has merited almost as many cable-news mentions as Iraq, at least according to one industry database.
Meanwhile, the Tyndall Report, which monitors evening newscasts by the Big Three U.S. networks, credits the story with receiving more air time than the Beslan school massacre during the week of Sept. 6-10.
Last week, that turned around, thanks to the U.S. visit by White House-appointed Iraqi leader Iyad Allawi. Things are so bad in Iraq that even Republican politicians are bemoaning the situation and, on Sunday, Secretary of State Colin Powell told ABC that the insurgency "is getting worse."
You'd think that would be reason enough to run a story examining the path to this war, but no.
CBS, cowed and cowering as a result of a discredited Dan Rather report about what George W. Bush did, or did not, do during Vietnam, is backing off on another story, ironically also about apparently forged documents, in this case ostensibly showing that Iraq attempted to buy uranium from Niger. The documents led to Bush's infamous "16 words" about Saddam's intentions in his 2003 State of the Union address that scared the bejeezus out of Americans.
This CBS report, six months in the works, was scheduled to air when the new 60 Minutes II season kicked off. Instead, it got bounced for that National Guard memo story. Now, it seems the Niger uranium report may never air.
On Saturday, CBS said it was being shelved because it is "inappropriate" with the presidential election just weeks away.
What? The president gets the country into an expensive, bloody quagmire, telling tales of weapons of mass destruction — and this kind of journalism is inappropriate?
At the same time, CBS radio affiliates are dropping the network's programming.
Damn that liberal media.
By the way, the chair of Viacom, which owns CBS, told a business audience in Hong Kong last week that the company was firmly in the Bush camp.
According to the Asian Wall Street Journal, Sumner Redstone said that "from a Viacom standpoint, the election of a Republican administration is a better deal. Because the Republican administration has stood for many things we believe in, deregulation and so on."
Score one more victory for the online and cable opinionators who are quickly supplanting what is left of relatively straightforward journalism on TV.
Which leads to this ironical quote from CBS News president Andrew Heyward, as reported last month in Newsday:
Referring to "pseudo-news, ersatz news, meta-news," he said, "(O)ne of our roles over time is going to be to sort through all those things and actually say, `What are the facts?' I can actually see a more powerful role for network news growing out of this cacophony of different sources, where we say, `You know what? If you knew that when you came to CBS you would absolutely get something that we could verify and prove and present with backup and credibly say that we have no agenda whatsoever, that would actually be — not to sound crass about it — not only valuable to the public but very marketable."
Yeah. No kidding.
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