Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Ethics Corner: CBS Scandal Shows That Newspaper Reporters Ignore TV Producers at Their Own Peril

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Ethics Corner: CBS Scandal Shows That Newspaper Reporters Ignore TV Producers at Their Own Peril

Article excerpt

Mary Mapes is a force behind the faces at the Wednesday edition of "60 Minutes." She spends weeks and months digging up dirt, interviewing sources, and writing scripts that Dan Rather and other CBS correspondents use to present their stories. She and the other 25 producers on the Sunday and Wednesday "60 Minutes" programs are silent, invisible players in the newsgathering process.

Their names appear on the television screen when a correspondent introduces a story, but only a minuscule number of viewers know that the producers are the brains behind each episode.

In television parlance, the network anchors, even though they sport fancy titles like "managing editor," are called "The Talent," as in Robert Redford or Dustin Hoffman. The CBS Web site's list of 27 major journalism awards credits the correspondents and excludes the news producers mainly responsible for the work.

Which is the way CBS wants to promote its news product, aided and abetted by newspaper and magazine television critics who have neither the time nor the will to analyze the behind-the-scenes legwork of the producers. "It's time to end the myth that one person does all the work," said Diane Holloway, a television critic for the Austin American-Statesman. "The people who know TV know what the producers do. The masses do not."

Rick Kushman, television critic for The Sacramento Bee, agreed. "We know the bulk of the reporting is done by the producers, but we don't write about them. The networks don't want us to. They're selling their stars. The public only finds out about the producers when something is screwed up."

That's what happened in September when the documents Dan Rather used to criticize President Bush's National Guard record turned out to be bogus. Rather apologized for his "mistake in judgment" and CBS publicists informed the media that the scandal was mostly Mary Mapes' fault.

Mapes deserves to be disciplined. She breached journalism ethics when she telephoned Joe Lockhart, an adviser to Sen. John Kerry, and allegedly arranged for him to speak to the source who gave her the documents. But last spring, CBS mostly hid Mapes' role in acquiring the still photos of American troop abuses of Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison and credited Rather with the exclusive. …

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