In his report on CBS News' efforts (at the recent CBS affiliates meeting) to persuade us that there is no bias on "CBS Evenings News" or "60 Minutes," Jay Sharbutt listed the questions that CBS posed and answered in the affirmative concerning its news reporting ("CBS Makes Big Splash of Its News," May 24).
These were, "Is it balanced? Is it fair? Is it accurate? Is it relevant? Is it responsible? Is it important? Is it timely?"
But do these affirmative answers dispel the main criticism of CBS, namely, that its reports are partisan?
Balance depends on the editors' idea of which viewpoints are worthy of airing. Ditto with fairness. Accuracy is a reasonably nonpartisan issue. Relevance is clearly a question of perspective. Again, ditto with responsibility, since if one demeans a viewpoint, it may be responsible to ignore it. Importance is undoubtedly value-laden and will be dictated by one's perspective. Timely may be neutral enough but with tons of materials, it's easy to be timely.
All in all, then, CBS has asked the kind of questions that it needs for a self-congratulatory answer. Had it asked more complex, less simple questions--e.g., whether the news division is innovative; do the editors canvass the political and philosophical spectra to air diverse solutions to problems being discussed; are they unbiased in their tone when they discuss different viewpoints; are they attentive to ideological diversity within and outside of government, etc.,--it would have been far more difficult to walk away feeling self-satisfied.
Without question, Dan Rather, Mike Wallace and Company are often advocates, not reporters. They cater to a viewpoint that they cherish and would like to have get wider adherence in the general public. This is not a conspiracy, simply shoddy journalism.
There is nothing wrong with it in editorials and essays, but when the news gets contaminated with such ax-grinding--as it clearly is on CBS far more so than, say, ABC--self-proclamations of journalistic purity will simply ring hollow to any honest viewer.
TIBOR R. MACHAN