Barry Saunders

Why CBS president loves a campaign circus – Saunders

If you’ve ever wondered why a certain presidential candidate, now nominee, is afforded so much air time – why even his plane landing uneventfully on an airport runway is treated as “BREAKING NEWS” – wonder no more. It’s very profitable to the television networks.

Les Moonves, president of CBS, let the armadillo out of the bag recently when he told CBS investors that the current presidential race and one particular presidential nominee “might not be good for America, but he’s sure good for CBS.”

No mention was made of whether it’s good for Mexicans, Muslims or immigrants.

Was Moonves’ admission inadvertent, or was he merely overcome by an attack of candor?

Doesn’t matter. Moonves is paid $67 million a year, so he will be fine regardless of who becomes our next president.

Are you as fortunate?

Neither am I.

Sure, Moonves said in articles about his address to the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference in San Francisco that the campaign for president is a “circus” full of “bomb throwing,” but goshdarnit, he hopes it continues.

There are probably a lot of executives nodding their heads (in agreement) because it does make good stories, and good stories get you eyeballs and eyeballs get you money.

Lois Boynton, professor of journalism at UNC

“Man, who would have expected the ride we’re all having right now? ... The money’s rolling in, and this is fun,” he told investors, presumably with hand-rubbing, avaricious glee. “I’ve never seen anything like this, and this is going to be a very good year for us. ... Donald (Trump)’s place in this election is a good thing. Sorry. It’s a terrible thing to say. But, bring it on, Donald. Keep going.

“There’s a lot of money in the marketplace,” he said, referring to political advertising.

I asked Lois Boynton, professor of journalism at UNC, if she was shocked to hear a media executive express such a mercenary outlook toward politics and money.

“As far as being that blunt about it? Yes, although there are probably a lot of executives nodding their heads (in agreement) because it does make good stories, and good stories get you eyeballs and eyeballs get you money,” Boynton said.

Doesn’t the media, though, I asked, have a responsibility to elevate political discourse instead of just report it?

“My preference,” said Boynton, who teaches ethics at UNC and is a fellow in the university’s Parr Center for Ethics, “would be to see it elevate discourse, but I haven’t seen a lot of that in this particular campaign.” Instead, she questioned the uncircumspect manner in which “there has been a lot of enjoyment in covering someone with a lot of wild things to say that attract people. ... I wish more media would take a little bit more time and ask themselves ‘Is this approach a good idea?’ when we’re thinking of our role in society as opposed to just being a business.

“It’s tricky, because if you don’t have the readership or the viewership,” she said, “you may not exist any more.”

Amen and halleluyer. As a former newspaper publisher, I confess that political races – the nastier the better – were great for my bottom line. During the three-year existence of the late, lamented Richmond County North Star, there were two times a year when I knew the rent would be paid on time and I could buy all the day-old doughnuts I could carry from the local bakery: Christmas season and political season.

If one candidate took out an advertisement slamming his or her opponent, chances were great that the telephone would ring and on the other end would be the opposition candidate seeking to run one to counter it.

My staff and I – OK, I was my staff – gladly accepted their moolah, but I also felt a responsibility to educate my readers and elevate political discourse. That idealism cost me money and hastened the demise of my fledgling enterprise.

If keeping advertisers happy while fulfilling your duty to educate, entertain and inform is, as Boynton described it, “a balancing act,” then I fell off the high wire and went splat!

Here’s what happened: When the mayor of Ellerbe was caught spending the town’s money on stuff he shouldn’t have been spending it on, I had a front-page picture of him with the subdued headline “Caught Red-handed!!!” above it.

The owner of a local jewelry store and the owner of Economy Auto Parts, at least one of whom was pals with the mayor, vowed immediately that they would never advertise in the North Star again.

In that instance, at least, they were men of their word.

I, on the other hand, knowing that I’d fulfilled my journalistic obligation, slept like a baby. That is, I woke up every two hours, crying over the lost revenue and wondering how I was going to dodge my landlord next week.

Les Moonves won’t have to dodge his landlord – and I’ll bet you he has no trouble sleeping.

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