CBS Is the Poster Child for Conflicts of Interest

This week, CBS’ 60 Minutes offered a tepid apology and half correction for its flawed reporting on the 2012 attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya. The story, which aired in October, centered on a key witness, Dylan Davies, whose account of the attacks has since been discredited.

As Media Matters and Mother Jones noted, not only did CBS push Davies’ account of the Benghazi attacks on the air, it also failed to mention that Simon & Schuster, which CBS owns, is publishing a book Davies wrote. This has barely come up in CBS’ discussion of the controversy around its story, and wasn’t mentioned at all in the network’s apology to viewers.

As Media Matters points out:

CBS has only acknowledged this problem on air during a Nov. 8 segment on CBS' This Morning, when anchor Jeff Glor reported that "60 [Minutes] has already acknowledged it was a mistake not to disclose that the book was being published by Simon & Schuster, which is a CBS company."

Notably, This Morning typically has an audience of 2.5 to 3 million viewers. 60 Minutes, by contrast, is the most-watched news program in America; the Oct. 27 broadcast was seen by almost 11 million people, while the Nov. 10 edition was watched by more than 15 million.

CBS is now conducting a “journalistic review” of the story, but it’s unclear how transparent or open that review will be.

This is only the most recent example of how CBS has used its power to influence a story.

Last January at the Consumer Electronics Show, the popular tech website CNET put the Hopper, a DISH Network-made gadget, on its short list for a best-in-show award.

However, CBS, which owns CNET, swooped in and demanded the DISH Hopper be removed from the list of potential awardees. Why? Because CBS is suing DISH over the device, which allows viewers watching TV through a DVR device to skip commercials.

This was one of the most boldfaced examples of corporate interference in a newsroom in recent memory and led at least one longtime CNET journalist to resign. At his departure, reporter Greg Sandoval said, "I no longer have confidence that CBS is committed to editorial independence."

After the way CBS handled the Benghazi report and the legitimate criticism that developed in response to it, many others likely now share Sandoval’s sentiment.

Now this type of behavior is starting to trickle down to CBS affiliates.

Earlier this month, Cox Media Group, which owns both a local newspaper — the Dayton Daily News — and CBS affiliate WHIO in Dayton, Ohio, sent a memo scolding newspaper staff for publishing an article that was critical of CBS.

“We do not want to run any stories that cast our station in a negative light or even allude to it negatively,” the memo read. Invoking the corporate chain’s new tagline, the memo reminded its journalists: “Remember, we are better together.”

Who owns the media matters. And how much any one company owns matters too. In each of these cases, media giants decided to put the bottom line above the byline, and put the corporate interest above the public interest. This kind of behavior is an assault on independent journalism and we shouldn’t stand for it.

Original photo by Flickr user Kristin Dos Santos

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