EDITORIAL: CBS must look at its own glass house before casting more stones at The New York Times

CBS News took a big risk when it attacked the credibility of The New York Times in response to an attack on its own credibility.

CBS News took a big risk when it attacked the credibility of The New York Times in response to an attack on its own credibility.

The Times ran a story about the fierce competition between the major networks to get the first interview with former Iraqi POW, PFC Jessica Lynch, and detailed alleged proposals made by CBS to Lynch. The implication was that her involvement with the network would extend far beyond an interview on The Early Show, making her a potential Viacom star. The news division responded with a statement that disputed the report by saying, "Unlike The New York Times' own ethical problems, there is no question about the accuracy or integrity of CBS News reporting." But at the same time, the network continued to refuse to release the correspondence sent to Lynch, rendering its claims of editorial independence for the news division rather hollow. The New York Times, for all of its mistakes, has attempted to achieve a level of transparency that may have damaged the organization more than it could have foreseen (see Analysis, June 9). There is a residual reputation problem that won't be resolved easily, but at least the Times has attempted to publicly examine the roots of the problem. Whether CBS' news division was in cahoots with its entertainment in-laws is a question we would all like answered. Unless the company is willing to fully disclose the proposed transaction, it shouldn't use the Times' problems to try and distract us from its own. The key to PR leadership is getting the culture There are a few interesting senior corporate communications jobs up for grabs out there, such as Judith Muhlberg's vacated post at Boeing. Sears just filled its top position, formerly held by Ron Culp, with former Goodyear SVP Robert O'Leary, and we're bound to see several other top jobs filled before the summer is over. Much is written about what it takes to take over as CEO of a new company, but little about how to succeed as its new head of corporate communications when one hasn't been promoted internally. These days, fewer CEOs are "lifers" in their jobs, and as they shuffle from company to company more frequently, so too do PR chiefs and other executives. So what does it really take to make it as a company's new head of PR? John Onoda, now a senior consultant with Fleishman-Hillard, has a lot of experience with this, having held the top jobs at General Motors, Visa USA, Charles Schwab, and Levi Strauss. Onoda says that knowing the company's business and products, while important, is not necessarily the most crucial thing. "People will be pretty forgiving when you don't know something, but if you violate a cultural taboo, people are much less understanding," he says. Onoda adds that an organization's culture will reveal itself in the protracted interview process that a senior PR person will typically endure. Simon Sproule, Nissan North America's newly minted VP of corporate communications, says what he has noticed just a few weeks into the job is that there is no "learning curve" in today's pressured environment. "You've got a couple more 'Get out of jail free cards," he says. "But those expire pretty fast."

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