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Flurry Of Books Chronicle Cbs Woes

May 11, 1987|DAVID CROOK | Times Staff Writer

Settle into the old Stratolounger and get ready for a storm of new books about the fall of the House of Paley.

Patriarch William S. Paley's once mighty CBS Inc., which for 18 months has been dragged through the mire of the front pages, business sections, entertainment columns, news magazines and nightly news programs, is hitting the bookstores. Big, as they say in the business.

Two books are out, and perhaps as many as 10 more about the trials and tribulations of CBS and CBS News are on the way. Most are playing off the board room and newsroom tornadoes that have buffeted the network from its stately Black Rock headquarters in mid-town Manhattan to Television City in Hollywood, and most seem destined to further blacken the famed CBS eye.

What makes CBS worthy of all the attention, says Allan Mayer, editorial director of New York's Arbor House publishers, is that the self-proclaimed Tiffany of networks "had a legacy that made it special--so now we see how the mighty have fallen."

Former CBS News President Bill Leonard, whose tome hit the stores Friday, explains the attention in a similar way: "I think there's always been something special about CBS and CBS News. There was always a touch of class, until recently."

Mayer's Arbor House was first out of the gate in late April with 30,000 copies of one-time producer Peter McCabe's 302-page "Bad News at Black Rock: The Sell-Out of CBS News."

But he just as well might have called it "The Education of Peter McCabe," for in it is revealed the chronicler's discovery of what he calls the horrible truth about TV journalism: Nobody knows what he's doing.

Joining McCabe's book on the bookstore shelves Friday was Leonard's "In the Storm of the Eye" from G.P. Putnam's Sons. Leonard calls it a "partly loving, partly irreverent" memoir of his 37 years at the network.

Two other ex-presidents of the news division are also pounding away at their word processors--Richard Salant, who guided the department through most of its heyday in the 1960s and '70s, and Ed Joyce, who was on watch during some of the storms of the 1980s. Salant has no publisher for his book, and its prospects are uncertain. Joyce is writing for Doubleday.

Two Newsweek reporters have been working on a tale of board-room intrigue, and an insider-outsider's account of the news division is being worked up by Peter J. Boyer, a CBS correspondent-turned-New York Timesman.

Even CBS chairman and founder William S. Paley is in on the act. He and writer David Harris are working on an autobiography (Paley's second) for Bantam while ex-New York Times reporter Sally Bedell Smith is typing away on a Paley biography for Simon and Schuster.

The Liverpool-born McCabe, a former Reuters reporter and Harper's editor, spent 15 months with the dead-and-buried "CBS Morning News." He walked out of the show's West 57th Street studio with a diary of corporate chaos, chicanery, indecision and downright incompetence that reads more like a report from inside the National Security Council than the inside of one of the world's most prestigious and myth-shrouded citadels of journalism.

"Nothing could have quite prepared me for what CBS turned out to be," McCabe says. "I suppose, maybe, I bought the myth, too, a bit. CBS seemed to be professionally run, the kind of organization capable of producing the kind of material that you could be proud of."

By his account, it wasn't.

Instead, McCabe says that he found the hallowed hallways of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite peopled with the likes of archetypal anchorette Phyllis George, an army of sycophants at the throne of Dan Rather, show-bizoids posing as news executives and people whose principal criterion for broadcasting a story was the question: "Where's the glitz?"

The "Morning News," he says, turned out to be "the joke of television."

New York Times reporter Boyer says that he is a "few weeks" from finishing his Random House book, which he describes as "a piece of journalism about CBS News in the post-Cronkite era." He says that his book, which may be in bookstores by Christmas, is "not at all" about his brief experience as a media reporter for the network.

Newsweek reporters Jonathan Alter and Bill Powell--who scored a journalism coup last fall with a widely read cover story on CBS' board-room imbroglio among Paley, new chief executive officer Laurence A. Tisch and former CBS chief Thomas Wyman--have slowed down on their writing, in part because of the flood of books about the network.

Alter and Powell quickly signed with Simon and Schuster for a book based on last fall's board-room drama. But now, says Alter, the duo is "concerned about the number of books out there" and whether the market is being saturated.

Part of the problem, he says, is that the public may become "confused as to which book is really telling the story of CBS."

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