On his second day on the job, CBS News President Sean McManus addressed the troops this afternoon, laying out his early vision for the division and handling questions tossed at him by the likes of Ed Bradley and Andy Rooney. In an exchange that lasted just over 40 minutes, McManus began by paying tribute to his "friend," outgoing CBS News President Andrew Heyward, saying, "I can't tell you how much respect I have for his leadership ability, his integrity, his intelligence and most of all his love respect for honest journalism and outstanding reporting."
Some of the themes McManus struck included a pursuit of excellence, a competitive desire to take CBS News up in the ratings and a willingness to experiment combined with a respect for the traditions of CBS News. McManus several times tied himself to the future success of the news division, commenting on leaving a comfortable spot as head of CBS Sports where his golf handicap had fallen in recent years to head a network number three in many categories.
McManus at one point noted, "If I didn't think we could get it done, I wouldn't have taken it because I certainly don't want to be associated with anything remotely considered failure." While McManus remains president of CBS Sports, he said 95% of his time will be spent focusing on the news division for the foreseeable future.
McManus sought to put to rest questions that some in the news division have been asking, beginning by voicing his admiration for CBS News tradition, noting, "I have an enormous respect for the ... quality and excellence of news coverage now being produced by all of you. … there's a great heritage and a great prestige here at CBS that I hope to maintain, and indeed, build upon." Within CBS News, these were important words because over the years some CBS and Viacom executives have said that tradition is more burden than benefit.
McManus said when CBS Chair Leslie Moonves offered him the job, "I said that I would accept it assuming he was totally committed to building up CBS News and not tearing it down. Well, I can tell you that my boss is totally committed to that idea and is going to give me the resources to do that at CBS News."
The new president did put the news division on notice, as he has in many previous interviews, that being number three is not acceptable. McManus said, "I can temporarily live with the fact that we are number three. … I can live with that for a time. But I definitely cannot accept the fact of anyone being satisfied with that condition. If you're not extremely frustrated, and perhaps even a little bit angry about being number three in the evening news and the early morning, then you probably shouldn't be in this room and that doesn't mean you should be discouraged or downtrodden, all it means is that we should be doing everything that we possibly can to make sure that more people are watching our programs and believe me, we are putting on some of the best programs in the industry."
He said he had a "wish list" of talent that he would like to see working for CBS sometime in the future but added, "I don't have a specific list of 'this person has to go, this person has to come.'" McManus said he had "no definitive time frame" for naming a "permanent" "Evening News" anchor, saying he wants to do it right rather than quickly. "There is a way to come up with a half-an-hour newscast that will attract more viewers and that people at home will say things like, 'wow I didn't know that' or 'that really affects me personally, I'm glad I watched this newscast,'" McManus said.
When asked about the "Naked News," a reference to a comment made by Moonves in a recent New York Times magazine article, McManus offered, "I could probably come up with some things that would be dramatic and would be attention-getting and would get a lot of ratings and would last for about a month and then people would go back to watching legitimate hard news. The one thing I'm not going to do is come up with a gimmick to get people to watch CBS News because that sacrifices what has been built up over 50 years."
In his opening remarks, McManus referenced Memogate and likened it to his experience producing the 2004 Super Bowl, which included the infamous Janet Jackson "wardrobe malfunction." McManus commented, "I am very, very familiar with what it feels like to pour your guts into an operation, to do outstanding work day after day after day and have one overwhelming element dominate the news about CBS News. Well, the good news is that is over now. We're not going to forget the lessons that we learned in the past but we're going to move forward and put that behind us and I believe accomplish great things together."
Asked if he feels the need to address perceptions that CBS has a left-wing bias, McManus said no, adding, "it's very difficult for any reporter or producer to completely and totally shut out his political opinions, but what I've seen at CBS News, people do a darned good job at doing that. I guess if I saw that creeping into our coverage I would have to address it, but I don't see that in our coverage, I think we have been falsely accused of that at times."
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