ON TUESDAY, CBS president Les Moonves told the Los Angeles Times that it was "clear that something went seriously wrong with the process" that produced DanScam. That's like The Zepplin Company announcing that the Hindenburg had a little trouble landing in New Jersey.
Moonves is the boss of an organization under siege, one whose brand is being gutted. He might find the Harvard Business School case study of Johnson & Johnson's reaction to the Tylenol poisonings of October 1982 useful, but he would find Khrushchev's "secret speech" even more compelling. Moonves needs to gather everyone employed by CBS News in one place or via video link, and deliver a speech. I suggest this text:
Alright everyone. This won't take long.
You'll notice that I have invited C-SPAN and a couple of folks from the blogosphere to join us. This is my way of trying to tell you it is a new world--a transparent, hypercritical world--and you'd better get used to it. Over there is Glenn Reynolds, a law professor, and the Instapundit. Lots of people visit his site every day. Smart people. Opinion makers. News-hungry people we used to serve. I have also asked John Hinderaker from Power Lineto be here to tape this and post it on his website. Power Line kicked our butt. Reynolds helped spread the word. We are done with denial at CBS News. Welcome gentlemen.
I am not firing Andrew Heyward, Dan Rather, or Mary Mapes, though Heyward is no longer CBS News president and Dan's not our anchor anymore. These three, and a few others involved in this meltdown, have been given an assignment to produce a one-hour special detailing what happened. It is scheduled to run in two weeks. I will review it before it airs. If it doesn't answer every question, then that will be the end of some fine CBS careers. I am not interested in retribution. I am interested in reputation. Ours is toast, and it deserves to be. Dan's in charge of the first step in the rebuilding process. I have confidence in him.
I am up here with [NAME]. He has accepted the enormous challenge of running this place. He's not a journalist. But he's been in and around Washington, D.C. for three decades, and is widely regarded as fair and smart. Yes, he's a Republican. Guess what. That doesn't matter. We can't pretend that journalists are "independent" anymore, above the fray, disinterested. Everyone single person in this room brings an agenda to work with them every day. Part of that agenda is advancement, fame fortune, the usual stuff. And part of that agenda is a preference for every side in every conflict. Even if you are fooling yourself, you aren't fooling the country and you aren't fooling me. We are lousy with liberals. You know it, I know it, and the world knows it. I am not firing anyone because of their politics, but I will fire people who refuse to admit what has been going on here for the last 30 years, and not just here, in the networks and the big papers as well.
Will hiring [NAME] turn us into Fox News? Fox News is a fine news organization, and if you haven't figured that out yet, you are in denial. They owned the Swift Boat story because we were sniffing about the fact that this or that didn't seem appropriate to us. They owned the Republican convention because people trust Hume. I'd hire him tomorrow to anchor but he won't come. So get over this "Fox News is a right-wing carnival" crap.
Get over everything in fact. Start following the news again instead of filtering it. If you aren't fair, pretend to be. We are all out of business if we don't stop the bleeding. Have you seen the numbers? The leader, ABC, Jennings--has gone from 13.6 million every night in 1991 to 9 million today. No other business in the world could see that trend and conclude that everything is fine. We aren't losing the audience--we are driving the audience away!
Ask yourself why, and don't tell me it is because we don't have a bureau in Vienna. It's because we don't have a clue. We aren't the news anymore. We are the echo chamber of the center-left establishment of America. We are seminar material for j-schools. We are well-paid, well-educated yes-men to Manhattan and Beltway elitism, and guess what, America hates us.
They should. You couldn't get more arrogance in one room at a World Affairs Council meeting.
So here is what we are going to do.
First, I've asked [NAME] to plunder the other networks. I want the best correspondents and producers.
Next, Bob Schieffer will hold down the fort until I can bribe Hume or find someone else--someone else not from within this group, period. But that anchor isn't the news director. I will be bringing in two partisans--one from the left and one from the right--and a businessman or woman to make up an internal editing board which will advise [NAME]. From now on there will be accountability in the story process. We aren't out of the ambush business, but we are not going to have another disaster on my watch.
And we are going to figure out the blogs, and we are going to get faster and quicker and more committed to staying ahead of news curves, even if that means we make mistakes and we apologize all over ourselves on a much more frequent basis. The audience will buy that if we screw up on both sides of the political aisle.
That's it. You are on notice. Knock off the agenda journalism. Change your habits or change your employer. There are plenty of people who can do this. It isn't hard. It isn't a profession. It is a craft, and right now, we are at its bottom."
It is yours. Les. Run with it. I spent 18 months ghosting for Richard Nixon in his retirement, so trust me on this. Rehabilitation is possible if begun with good writing."
Hugh Hewitt is the host of a nationally syndicated radio show, and author most recently of If It's Not Close, They Can't Cheat: Crushing the Democrats in Every Election and Why Your Life Depends Upon It. His daily blog can be found at HughHewitt.com.