CBS anchorman Dan Rather, in a sharply worded speech Wednesday that assailed the same thing that Bill Moyers criticized CBS News for last week, decried news executives who think viewers want "news that entertains . . . ."
Rather, who didn't accuse his own network or any other network of such journalist sins, vowed never to accept or compromise on "a formula that mixes news with entertainment or inserts marketing priorities into the best practice of journalism."
Addressing a luncheon of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences at the Century Plaza, Rather made no reference in his prepared remarks to Moyers' assertions that in the last 2 1/2 years "the line between entertainment and news was steadily blurred" at CBS News.
But Rather, who is anchoring his "CBS Evening News" broadcast from Los Angeles this week, did criticize news executives--without naming any--"who really think that what people want is news that entertains, news that trivializes . . . a news lullaby."
In the fierce competition for ratings and profits, he said, the rationale of such executives is that giving viewers what research shows they want helps avoid losing them and "better serves the viewing public anyway." He called this "nonsense."
In criticizing audience research in news, Rather indirectly suggested that such research has gone on at all three networks' news divisions.
"News by market research has been a staple of local television and at many newspapers for years," he said. "I'm wary of the argument that it can be a valuable tool if used sparingly. Any time it replaces journalistic judgments, I'm concerned.
"But when market research . . . dictates editorial decisions for network newsrooms, I'm appalled," he said. However, he did not say if that ever had happened at CBS News or at the news divisions of NBC and ABC.
News-by-research, he said, doesn't work and "yields a product that is bland and shallow. It shrinks from controversy and hides anything unpleasant. And it is not without consequence. The news lullaby can bring on a deep sleep."
He also criticized what some call "infotainment," a mix of information and entertainment passing for news. He also assailed news executives who consider it news. That, he said, "is a cynical conclusion that the marriage of information and entertainment . . . is what will sell. I don't buy it."
His remarks came a week after the resignation of Van Gordon Sauter as CBS News president after months of much-publicized turmoil and dissension in the division. Rather, who considers Sauter a friend, made no reference to him in his speech.
As Rather was speaking, sources at CBS News in New York said that the division, now temporarily run by executive vice president Howard Stringer, had rehired three news producers laid off last July when CBS News dismissed 70 persons amid company-wide cutbacks.
The trio includes a veteran executive, E.S. (Bud) Lamoreaux, a former senior producer of the "CBS Sunday Morning News." Lamoreaux now will work on a new project, said one source, who said he didn't know if any more laid-off employees would be rehired.
The moves nonetheless were seen by some observers as part of an effort to both restore the confidence and the morale of CBS News in the wake of the resignation last week of both Sauter and board chairman Thomas H. Wyman, who had been a major Sauter ally.
CBS Inc. now is run by its founder, William S. Paley, acting as temporary board chairman, and by Laurence A. Tisch, a major stockholder who is serving as acting chief executive officer until a permanent successor to Wyman is named.
Tisch is said to like hard, serious broadcast journalism and has put the restoration of the morale and prestige of CBS News among his top priorities.
Rather, in his speech, said that without CBS News, which he called a "rowdy, rugged and fiercely independent family," CBS will "become just another large and successful corporation.
"It no longer will be the CBS of Edward R. Murrow, Walter Crinkite, Eric Sevareid . . . or the many others too numerous to mention," he said. And, he added, "without an evening news broadcast determined to stand for what those people stood for, CBS will no longer be--and there's no other way to put this--CBS."