WHO KILLED CBS? by Peter J. Boyer


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How America's #1 News Network Went Down the Tubes. CBS-TV's once-esteemed news division has suffered a series of widely publicized traumas during the 1980's. Boyer, a New York Times correspondent (who served briefly as a media critic on the network's ill-fated Morning News) makes a fine and lively job of recounting the broadcasting giant's woes in the context of larger issues. In an unrelentingly blunt and vividly documented appraisal, Boyer charges that CBS News executives have broken faith with an honorable journalistic past exemplified by Edward R. Murrow's warning against the perils of ""infotainment."" By way of example, he notes that ratings-hungry honchos like the since-departed Van Gordon Sauter were hellbent on adding show-biz glitz to the Evening News, on which an insecure Dan Rather was laboring to make a name for himself as successor to Walter Cronkite. Nor, according to the author, did the news division's overseers protect their subordinates against the fiscal importunities of corporate bosses as tradition dictated. Parent-company chiefs, Boyer concedes, had troubles of their own, including unwelcome takeover bids from Ted Turner and a group led by Sen. Jesse Helms. The organization men's response was a panicky effort to enhance the bottom tine via budget cuts and other measures that led to layoffs in the hitherto sacrosanct news division. In the meantime, Boyer reports, Murrow's heirs were fouling their own nest with flashy programs (one of which led to a libel suit from Gen. William Westmoreland), glamorous but inept anchors (e.g., Phyllis George), soft features, and a surfeit of celebrity interviews. Eventually, moneyman Laurence A. Tisch joined forces with the company's octogenarian founder, William Paley, to seize control of CBS and start restructuring it. Among the casualties, Boyer counts the news division--which now offers the TV equivalent of tabloid journalism--and the public interest. It's almost impossible to gainsay his bleak conclusions about a high-stakes enterprise for which a picture is worth a thousand words and writing ability has become an optional talent.

Pub Date: May 18th, 1988
Publisher: Random House