By David Zurawik
The Baltimore Sun
6:23 PM EDT, May 26, 2012
I have been meaning to write a big piece about CBS News and "This Morning" for two weeks. But other assignments took precedence, so now I'll have to write a much smaller piece a day late after the network has already celebrated 100 days of its revamped and journalistically-amped 'Early Show' with Charlie Rose and Gayle King.
For more than a year before Chris Licht was lured away from MSNBC to re-invent the morning show, I had been writing that the CBS morning show was dead in the water as a journalistic enterprise and ought to be taken out in an alley behind West 57th Street and put out of its misery. It wasn't just an hour or a day late on big news, often it seemed to not even appreciate what the news of the morning was. It was an embarrassment to CBS.
But what a difference 100 days and Licht have made. I know the ratings growth has been marginal so far, but hardly a day goes by that it doesn't make news with one of its absolutely-on-top-of-what's-happening interviews -- often by Charlie Rose.
The effort by "This Morning" the day after ABC's Robin Roberts interviewed President Obama and he made his historic statement supporting same-sex marriage is typical of the enterprise, competitiveness, hustle and journalistic chops of this CBS News outfit.
As I wrote at the time in response to ABC high-fiving itself over the "scoop" interview:
... ABC News did little more than allow itself to be used by the White House, while CBS News served the public with an interview on the morning after Obama made history with his words. The interview was among the very best TV news reporting on this story anywhere -- really.
The CBS "This Morning" show interviewed Max Mutchnick, co-creator of "Will & Grace." During that conversation, Mutchnick said he was at a "private function" in Los Angeles two weeks before Vice President Joe Biden announced his support of same-sex marriage on "Meet the Press."
The conventional wisdom all week among political analysts has been that Biden's off-the-cuff remarks last Sunday on "Meet the Press" forced Obama into making a statement on the matter three days later with Roberts. Read a textbook version of Bloomberg News swallowing this spinand then recycling it here.
But what Mutchnick heard and saw two weeks earlier in Los Angeles, particularly with someone from the White House recording Biden's Hollywood encounter at the "private function," led him to believe the statements by Biden and Obama were "very choreographed." Mutchnick uses the perfectly apt show biz metaphor of an out of town tryout for what the administration did with Biden in Los Angeles where he said "verbatim" what he later said on "Meet the Press."
What Mutchnick says is important, because, at the very least, it makes you question Obama presenting his support for same-sex marriage as a moment of pure conscience. It also makes you question the White House account of Biden "apologizing" to Obama for his "Meet the Press" remarks. And what about the tape of the Los Angeles tryout? Was that used for focus groups on to see how the public -- or, perhaps, fund raising audiences -- might respond to the president supporting same-sex marriage?
Everyone on the Web from Politico to the Huffington Post was quoting CBS News even as the White House was working overtime to dismiss Mutchnick's words as not being of any significance. The White House had to double down on its duplicity, because "CBS This Morning" had exposed its game.
But almost every day, Rose, Gayle King or Erica Hill are making news with likes of Cardinal Timothy Dolan talking about the Catholic Church's lawsuit challenging the administration mandate that employers must fund birth control for employes, or ESPN analyst Digger Phelps, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer two years ago, debating the chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society over the value of PSA testing. And it is almost never silly or fluffy the way NBC's "Today" show can groan-ably be when it is sucking up to this TV season's latest version of Kate Gosselin.
I see at least one of my so-called colleagues questioning Friday's celebration of 100 days by the team at 'This Morning.' I also see the fingerprints of a publicist at a competing news organization all over that post.
I am writing this on a holiday weekend because I am so angry about that kind of sleazy behavior by some members of the network/cable PR community and readiness by my colleagues to play along with that dirty, lazy game.
Executive producer Chris Licht and CBS News have planted a flag for responsible, intelligent news, information and conversation in morning network television. In the last week alone, I have heard unsolicited praise for what CBS is serving up in the morning from a famed Johns Hopkins Hospital surgeon, one of the most-widely published professors at the University of Maryland in College Park and the savviest Washington political pollster I know.
I was one of the folks who wondered about the choice of the 70-year-old Rose to lead the new CBS News morning effort. But he has brought newsmakers to CBS mornings that they would otherwise never get for interviews. He's also brought credibility and respect.
One hundred days in, I have nothing but congratulations for Licht -- and best wishes for the unorthodox, but winning, morning team he's fielding.
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