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At CBS: Ethics for sale?

REGARDING MEDIA TIM RUTTEN

December 31, 2003|TIM RUTTEN

"I'm surprised and chagrined to see CBS practicing checkbook journalism," said Kirtley. "Covering people's expenses so they can come to your studios is one thing, but compensating anybody for telling their story is ethically problematic. It should raise the fundamental question in the minds of viewers or readers: Is this person motivated by a desire to tell the truth or to be paid? There's no doubt that what CBS and '60 Minutes' have done deviates from American journalistic standards."

In Schell's mind, "television's definition of news has become utterly corrupted by ratings wars that essentially are driven by entertainment stories. Maybe it's time to dissolve the unholy marriage between the networks' news and entertainment divisions."

Kirtley said that "there is a sense among those of us outside the networks that the line between news and entertainment is increasingly blurred. We've also regarded CBS as one of the places where that trend was most strongly resisted -- until now."

Most important, both analysts say, is the fact that practices like those followed by CBS in the Jackson case further erode the public's understandably grudging willingness to take the trouble to distinguish between journalism and entertainment.

"That distinction already is lost on much of the public," said Kirtley. "What's happened here contributes to a further degradation of standards on which we all rely. When there's no difference between news and entertainment in CBS News' mind, how can we expect the public to see one?"

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