Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Fair And Balanced Reporting, Or Craven Corporate Pandering?

I just finished reading Rather Outspoken, a memoir by Dan Rather, former anchor of CBC News who was essentially fired for reporting the truth about George Bush's time in the Texas Air National Guard in lieu of going to Vietnam. While there was plenty of evidence to support the fact that Bush was absent without leave for about a year, the CBS report on it, truncated by 'the suits,' made it seem that the veracity of the claims rested solely on one series of disputed documents, known as the Killian documents.

The book is worthwhile as a reminder of the noble ideals of old-school journalism, the crucial role a free press plays in a democratic society, and as a warning about what happens when news becomes a fungible commodity; in the case of CBS, it became merely one element in the corporate drive for profit and expansion. That it can no longer be relied upon to 'speak truth to power' is made despairingly evident in Rather's book.

I don't have time to go into much detail, but essentially the problem Rather outlines is that government wants something from the media (good press and a means to promulgate its version of 'truth') and the corporate behemoths want things from government. In the case of CBS, Viacom, its parent company, wanted an easing of restrictions on how many stations a network could own. In the past, they were limited to six, but, at least in part due to its willingness to pull stories, apologize for segments aired that offended the administration, etc., that number, at least in 2012 when the book was published, is now 39. The quid pro quo should offend all critical thinkers.

It is a book I highly recommend, and I make it the subject of this post for one reason. Last night I happened to catch the CBS Evening News coverage of the Republican Convention. While they did not shirk from the Melania Trump plagiarism, they did offer ample opportunity for the Trump side's spin, culminating in something that I feel merits some scrutiny.

If you advance the video to about the 8-minute mark, look at the curious perspective offered in the name of 'balance':

Fair reporting or corporate pandering? You decide.


  1. William Paley used to claim he didn't look to his news organization to produce profits, Lorne. He had Jack Benny and others to do that. How times have changed.

    1. Dan Rather speaks very highly of Paley in his book, Owen. it took him a long time to realize that his successors had no such notions.

  2. Replies
    1. Interestingly, DB, I just got a call from the friends of CBC asking for my support. I told them I couldn't give it at this point, as i am waiting to see if balance has returned to their newscasts, especially The National. For too long during the Harper years, they seemed to be following a policy of appeasement, something I have written about in the past on this blog. That being said, and despite their faults, I do believe the CBC is our best hope for reasonable coverage of public issues.