Friday, April 02, 2004

Revised April 3, 2004 at 3:20 pm

Lesley Stahl borrows from John Bulushi: Coloring the News with CBS's Stahl's not so blunt ethical crayons.

CBS's Lesley Stahl must have been an admirer (she is old enough for this) of the long deceased Chicagoan, John Bulushi. Bulushi was the very funny actor and comedian from the 70s [Second City, SNL, Blues Brothers and Animal House] who died, way too early, of a drug overdose. Bulushi used to do a SNL skit telling people who had failed to report income to the IRS how to defend against an IRS action. As Bulushi would say, just tell them two words, two simple words-- that is all you need-- "I forgot."

Lesley Stahl, at the conclusion of last week's 60 Minutes, read to the viewers a letter CBS received in response to the prior week's show [her interview of Richard Clarke.] --

Stahl: "About an issue that's become a cause celeb of those who found a hidden motive in our interview [of Richard Clarke]. There were a lot of letters like this one:

Is it true that Dick Clarke's book is published by a CBS sister company [Simon and Shuster]. (Why didn't you tell us)...?
Kurt Schramm
Franklin Lakes, New Jersey.

Stahl: Because Mr. Schramm, when we lined up the interview with Mr. Clarke months ago, he hadn't yet found a publisher. Having said that, let me also say that considering the nature of the Clarke book I should have mentioned that his publisher [Simon and Shuster] was a company owned by the same people [Viacom] who own CBS. That I didn't was plainly and simply an oversight. [mistakes were made]

I am Lesley Stahl. We will be back next week with another edition of 60 Minutes.
"60 minutes," March 28, 2004.

So, for Lesley Stahl to have any credibility with viewers in the future, they have to believe four things:

(1) 60 Minutes lined up Richard Clarke to be its guest before Clarke had a publisher for his book.

(2) 60 minutes would not have booked Clarke as a guest if, at the time it did the booking, it knew Clarke was ultimately going to have his book published by a sister company to CBS.

(3) Lesley Stahl learned sometime before the interview that CBS's sister company-- Simon and Shuster-- was publishing Clarke's book and, of course, Lesley knows that Simon and Shuster is a sister company of CBS, as both are owned by Viacom.

(4) Lesley simply "forgot" to advise the 60 Minutes viewers that her employer, CBS, and she had a conflict of interest in her interview of Clarke.

Boy and Girls, unless my gentle readers and Stahl's gentle viewers just fell off a turnip truck, I would say items 2 and 4, above, are extremely hard to believe. I mean really, now. Stahl has a major league conflict of interest and she doesn't disclose it to her viewers as they watch her interview. When she is caught on the conflict, she says, that's easy: Just two words, I have just two words to explain that, "I forgot." Bulushi, may he RIP, couldn't have deadpanned it better himself.

Jeff Berkowitz is host and producer of "Public Affairs."
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