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A piece from 2017 that seemed worth re-visiting...
Media Culpability For Trump
The CBS Example
By Ray Cunneff
As some of you already know, I spent fourteen years at CBS, starting as a Program Coordinator in New York and ending as as Executive Producer at TV City Hollywood. What I don't think I've ever mentioned was that at one time I was very interested in joining the CBS News Division, something I never got the chance to do but instead bounced back and forth between the Program Department and the Program Practices Department (twice), something analogous to alternately being a prosecutor and a defense attorney.
But in 1966, I was one of two or three candidates for the job of Production Manager for a new CBS News program called "60 Minutes". No one really knew exactly how the show would work, but it was clearly a top-tier team led by veteran Cronkite producer Don Hewitt and hosted by Mike Wallace and Harry Reasoner.
In those days, if CBS was "the Tiffany of Networks", CBS News was the jewel in the crown. Evening news anchor Walter Cronkite was "the most trusted man in America" and the news division was generally regarded as the best in broadcasting (although NBC was a close second). CBS News was not yet considered a profit center, more like a "loss leader" and blessed with a protective buffer from the pressures of advertisers, affiliates and government in the towering presence of chairman Bill Paley and president Dr. Frank Stanton.
One can only speculate what a news organization like that would have made of a candidate like Donald Trump. But it's doubtful that they would have granted him disproportionate free airtime or considered him anything more than a carnival sideshow. More likely, they would have investigated such a candidate thoroughly and ultimately castigated him for his hateful and reckless rhetoric much in the way CBS's Edward R. Morrow had dismembered red-baiting Senator Joe McCarthy a decade earlier.
I'll never know if I would have gotten the job, I was drafted into the U.S. Army and my friend (the late) Tony Sturniolo * got the job and stayed with the show for over thirty years.
In a February 29, 2016 article in the Hollywood Reporter, CBS CEO Les Moonves famously remarked about the candidacy of Donald Trump, "It may not be good for America, but it's damn good for CBS".
But there was a good deal more to the article. Moonves was euphoric about the ratings and ad dollars Trump's candidacy was delivering for the network. He called his campaign for president a "circus" full of "bomb throwing"and hoped it would continue.
He said, "Most of the ads are not about issues. They're sort of like the debates. Man, who would have expected the ride we're all having right now? ... The money's rolling in and this is fun," he said.
"I've never seen anything like this, and this going to be a very good year for us. Sorry. It's a terrible thing to say. But, bring it on, Donald. Keep going," said Moonves.
Days earlier, he told the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference in San Francisco, "Donald's place in this election is a good thing. There's a lot of money in the marketplace," the exec said of political advertising so far the presidential election season.
Beyond politics, Moonves said ad sales in general were strong because there's not a lot of places beyond "The Big Bang Theory" where advertisers can reach 20 million people all at once.
This was by no means unique to CBS. In fact, the cable news networks with their 24/7 news cycles bear even more responsibility than the major broadcast networks for the rise of Donald J. Trump, president for all the wrong reasons.
* I only found out earlier today that Tony had died in 2016. A bit of a shock since we're almost exactly the same age.