CBS News Misses the Boat

The Good Ship Couric is sinking fast, but is it really her fault?

CBS news expected Katie’s new show would get a one-month honeymoon cruise at least, but before the week was out the Groom abandoned the bridal suite for the ship lounge and now the bride languishes alone on her fancy set, pretending, perhaps, that he’s just run out for more ice. CBS News is back to their traditional third place position and Black Rock staffers are said to be edging toward the lifejacket lockers and jockeying for position near the lifeboats, of which there are definitely few and may even be none.

What has scuttled this once-proud liner?

It’s not fair to blame Katie. She’s just the lovely hand-carved figurehead affixed to the bow. She doesn’t drive the ship, she ornaments it.

No, the blame settles solidly on the company itself. The ship is rickety and old, she needs a complete overhaul, not just a fresh coat of paint and a perky new figurehead in front. People don’t book time on her because they don’t trust her, they know that deep down she doesn’t hold water.

What has brought this once-proud ship to the Black Rocky Bottom? Let’s have a look, my mateys…

The Wreck Of The Dan Rather
By the October of 2004, it was clear that The Good Ship Dan Rather had been sinking for years. A Presidential regatta was nearing the finish line and CBS, weighted down with ideological baggage, langushed near the back of the fleet. Their overt Liberal bias had driven away at least half the television news market, leaving them to compete with ABC, NBC, CNN, PBS and MSNBC for the rest. Deprived of Advertising Treasure, CBS News was slowly disintegrating.

And so, eight weeks before election day, Captain Rather made a desperate maneuver: he steered for the lead with a report attacking President Bush. Unfortunately the facts of the story turned out to be fake and instead of crossing the finish line triumphantly in Captain Kerry’s wake, The Good Ship Dan foundered on a reef called Truth. Kerry lost, Bush won and the furious Owners and Crew mutinied.

Months later, Captain Dan walked the plank.

The Inquest
With Rather gone and their reputation in shreds, CBS had to investigate what went wrong and decide how to rebuild. Serious self-evaluation was in order. But there was a problem:

Any dispassionate evaluation of the cause of the The Wreck Of The Rather had to show that competing with five other news networks for just half the news market is a loser. What business would voluntarily eschew half the consumers in the nation to go after only the other half? How were CBS Execs going to justify this baffling business model without making themselves look like completely blind ideologues?

There was also the steerage problem: CBS News navigated by a compass that only pointed in one direction: left. Refusing to accept that there might be at least three other points by which to sail meant the the ship was doomed to go in circles forever.

Ideological myopia caused Dan and his partners to steer into that reef. CBS just couldn’t see what was plain to everybody else: the Burkett story and memos were fake – a trap – the waters were not safe. Tragically, that same myopia was going to make it impossible for CBS to fix the problem.

Dan claimed it was piracy – The evil Black Bloggers attacked him and brought him down. The Fox News Raiders hijacked Advertising treasure, scared off passengers, and filled the airwaves with the fog and smoke of war. Dan was not to blame, Dan was a victim.

CBS blamed the ship crew. Bad captain, bad first mate, bad cabin boy.

The Looming New Disaster
In the aftermath of the Wreck of The Rather, CBS had an opportunity. The old ship was down, now they could build a new one. They were free to try something different, if they chose. One has to wonder what they were thinking (if they were thinking at all) when they chose Katie, replacing a serious Liberal with a fluffy Liberal.

Instead, they took a ship that sunk because it was old, fat, lumbering and ideologically half-blind and raised it up again to sail back out into the market, essentially unchanged except for a coat of lead paint and a perky cheerleader as captain. The opportunity has been squandered, “more of the same” (only frothier) is the order of the day, and CBS once again sails out into dangerous waters, shamefully outdated and now totally underequipped. They were doomed from the start.


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