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Steve Capus leaves NBC News worse off in ratings and journalism

Ending a tenure marked by the costly decline of the 'Today' show, the failure of the newsmagazine 'Rock Center'  and an erosion of journalistic values, Steve Capus Friday resigned as president of NBC News after almost eight years on the job.

While NBC once had the number one morning and evening news shows on his watch, the last two years have been a story of failure for Capus and the network's news division.

Morning shows are the engines that drive news division profits, and in the last 18 months, "Today" has managed to blow what seemed line an insurmountable lead to ABC's "Good Morning America" -- a development that has already cost the network hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising revenue and promotional platforms.

And the mistakes that led to the loss of leadership were management made. One of the worst involved jettisoning "Today" co-host Ann Curry and somehow allowing the perception to become a widely-held belief that co-host Matt Lauer was behind it. Not only were Curry fans unhappy about what happened to her, they now hate Lauer and will watch anyone else in the morning.

Capus also spent millions on one of the sorriest excuses of a newsmagazine in TV history, Brian Williams' "Rock Center," which has been a rock solid failure in ratings and journalism to the point where NBC affiliates hate having it air at 10 p.m. as it drags down the ratings lead-ins to their local newscasts.

I lost any respect I had for Capus as a news executive when he hired Chelsea Clinton as a "special correspondent" for "Rock Center" and tried to justify it by saying how qualified she was.

It was, he said, as if Clinton "had been preparing her whole life" for the network news job.

Given that Clinton not only hadn't studied or practiced journalism, but had refused to even talk to reporters during her mother's 2008 presidential campaign, it is one of the most disconnected-from-reality statements I have ever heard from the mouth of a news president in 30 years of reporting on the networks.

How can a news division have any credibility when its president is making such outrageous and patently false claims?

Even worse, Capus was technically in charge of MSNBC, and so, he bears some responsibility for its egregious embrace of ideology at the expense of journalism in the last two years.

Supporters of Capus will say he was a victim of Comcast's takeover of NBC, and there is some truth to that. He did get a new boss, Pat Fili-Kushnel, in the ownership shuffle, and he did have the option of opting out of the network, which is how some are depicting his departure.

Fine, but the truth is that he did more than enough damage to his career, reputation, NBC News and MSNBC all by himself to be shown the door.

I'm sorry, but we should be straightforward about such things instead of mouthing corporate P.R. half truths and total lies -- especially at a time like this when journalistic standards are under siege to the point where democracy is threatened.

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