Monday, January 10, 2005

CBS News - What's Politics Got To Do With It

A struggling business, directed by people with a quirky personality trait, are presented with an opportunity to crush their competition with the gold standard of achievement in their field. It's a questionable prospect, but the business opportunity is unparalled. They err on the side of poor judgment, and in the end, the questionable nature of the opportunity presents disaster.

This is my story of CBS News and Bush National Guard Memos.

Imagine you're a national journalist that covers political figures. For the most part, your subjects are very concerned about the image you present of them. To insure good coverage, they stroke your ego. It's been like this since you worked for a local TV station in East Somewhere, North Carolina - the mayor and county manager used to feed you stories on their enemies, helping their careers and yours. You've always had access, and as you advanced your career, all kinds of powerful people wanted your attention and most of all, your approval.

For the last eight years, the President of the United States, the most powerful man in the world, loved people like you in the media. He wanted to be loved by everyone and the image you presented of him would make his legacy, so he coddled you and your professional friends and colleagues in Manhattan.

Along comes this interloper from Texas. He sounds like a redneck hick, but he's from one of the most powerful families in the country. He doesn't need your approval - he doesn't want your approval. He has all the money he needs to get his message out, and the media can't help him. He doesn't stroke you like the President does - who does this redneck think he is? He's got that creepy guy from Wyoming controlling all the media access - you hardly have any access anymore. He's marginalized you.

We'll teach this redneck - so we tell the world about his DUI arrest right before his upcoming election. This is like "COPS" - drunken hick from Texas - he'll never make it in the White House now. These guys will learn - they're nothing without you. Then...

He becomes President of the United States. Only a couple years ago, the President and all "his people" were at your beck and call. Today, you're on the outside looking in, and they dictate the agenda to you. He's wildly unpopular by Presidential standards, but he doesn't seem to care. For every person you know in Manhattan and Washington that hates his guts, there's some redneck in Wichita that loves this guy.

Four years, no access, no stroking, and you're angry. Besides that, your news organization is losing relevance. It was bad enough to be the third horse in a three-horse race, but with newcomers from cable and the pressure of the Internet, you're slipping fast. There's one way to get back on top - you must bring down someone in power. Look at what "The Pentagon Papers" did for the Times, Watergate for the Post; if we could just bring someone down, we'd get back on top.

Along comes your opportunity - the best opportuntity - POTUS - and look who it is? That interloper hick from Texas. This is unbelievable - a chance to put the news department back on top and crush that little rich boy in the White House like a bug. There's some questions about the veracity of these memos, but so what? Once we catch the scoop, people will be so caught up in the media spectacle, no one will question it.

You and your team put together a story for air on a national news program and you sit back and wait. In 50 days, that interloper will be gone, and you'll be mentioned in the upper echelon of journalistic history. Suddenly it all goes wrong, terribly wrong...

Is it really about politics, or is it personal and professional?

I don't believe we "know" it is about politics.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is my first visit here, but I will be back soon, because I really like the way you are writing, it is so simple and honest

7:59 AM  

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