[Mb-civic] 60 Minutes: Shelving a Story to Boost Bush? (Media alert)

ean at sbcglobal.net ean at sbcglobal.net
Tue Sep 28 21:01:15 PDT 2004

                    Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting
               Media analysis, critiques and activism


60 Minutes: Shelving a Story to Boost Bush?
CBS puts Niger expose on hold as boss endorses Republicans

September 28, 2004

In an outrageous politicization of journalism, CBS announced it would not
air a report on forged documents that the Bush administration used to sell
the Iraq war until after the November 2 election (New York Times,
9/25/04).  A network spokesperson issued a statement declaring, "We now
believe it would be inappropriate to air the report so close to the
presidential election."

The 60 Minutes segment was ready to air on September 8, but was bumped in
favor of the now infamous report that relied on supposed National Guard
memos whose authenticity CBS now says it cannot confirm.  The furor over
the Guard memos has created a situation where CBS executives say "the
network can now not credibly air a report questioning how the Bush
administration could have gotten taken in by phony documents" (Newsweek
online, 9/22/04).

Of course, what's really inappropriate here is CBS allowing its PR
problems to suppress a news report on an important issue until after it no
longer matters.  The shelved 60 Minutes story deals with the origins of
documents purportedly showing that Iraq under Saddam Hussein tried to
obtain uranium from Niger-- documents that turned out to be forgeries. The
story, according to the Newsweek online report, asks "tough questions
about how the White House came to embrace the fraudulent documents and why
administration officials chose to include a 16-word reference to the
questionable uranium purchase in President Bush's 2003 State of the Union

Though such questions are clearly relevant to a presidential campaign that
largely revolves around Bush's decision to invade Iraq, CBS intends to
keep the answers to itself until the election has passed.  Could there be
more than the embarrassment over the Guard story behind this decision?

Sumner Redstone, CEO of CBS's parent company Viacom, made an unusual
political statement at a gathering of corporate leaders in Hong Kong
(Asian Wall Street Journal, 9/24/04):

"I don't want to denigrate Kerry... but 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. The Democrats are not bad people.... But from a
Viacom standpoint, we believe the election of a Republican administration
is better for our company."

Redstone repeated these sentiments in an interview with Time (10/4/04): 

"There has been comment upon my contribution to Democrats like Senator
Kerry. Senator Kerry is a good man.  I've known him for many years.  But
it happens that I vote for Viacom.  Viacom is my life, and I do believe
that a Republican administration is better for media companies than a
Democratic one."

According to a write-up by Forbes (9/23/04)-- the sponsor of the
conference where Redstone issued his endorsement of Bush-- the CEO
asserted that "he never gets involved in any aspects of the network's news
coverage."  But that claim, hard to believe when made by any media
industry chief executive, seems particularly dubious given Forbes' report
that "Redstone said he has been talking daily to top CBS officials and to
Viacom board members about the controversy" over the Guard memos.

It is journalistically indefensible for CBS to withhold a story due to
embarrassment incurred by another, unrelated piece.  It is particularly
unacceptable when the shelving of a story benefits a candidate that CBS's
boss has just publicly endorsed.  If CBS wants to restore trust in its
news judgment, it can begin by applying journalistic standards, not
political calculations, to the decision on when to air its report on the
origin of the forged Niger documents.

ACTION: Please contact 60 Minutes and urge them to stand up for
journalistic principle by airing the report on the Niger forgeries.  And
call Viacom and CBS executives and tell them to allow 60 Minutes to report
the news without political interference.

60 Minutes
524 West 57th St. 
New York, NY 10019 
mailto:60m at cbsnews.com

Phone: (212) 975-3247

Sumner Redstone, Chairman, Viacom
(212) 258-6000

Les Moonves, Chairman of CBS; co-President & co-CEO, Viacom
(323) 575-2345

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