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E-Mailbag: Nancy Giles's Commentary

"CBS News Sunday Morning" on Sept. 4 featured a commentary by "Sunday Morning" contributor Nancy Giles, an actress and comedian, who discussed the federal response to the Katrina disaster, in which she included comments such as:
"If the majority of the hardest hit victims of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans were white people, they would not have gone for days without food and water, forcing many to steal for mere survival."

We received this e-mail from viewer Rod D. regarding the segment:
"Your network having Nancy Giles as a commentator is a true joke. What are her credentials for giving her biased views? Has your network learned nothing from Rathergate? Until you wake up, people will keep tuning you out."

The commentary caused a bit of a stir in the blogosphere as well. For example, after including the contents of Giles's resume as posted on her Web site, blogger Sisyphus Comments wrote:
"… try to figure out what aspect of her resume qualifies her to evaluate the quality of an emergency response to a natural disaster?"

PE asked Rand Morrison, executive producer of "Sunday Morning," to respond to these complaints and shed some light on how the broadcast chooses its contributors, how overall balance of the opinions presented is considered and, specifically, how Nancy Giles was chosen to present last Sunday's commentary. Here's what he had to say:
"We use our Opinion section at Sunday Morning to reflect a spectrum of views, from a variety of commentators, of all political persuasions. Short of them dissembling about who they are, or what they're about, we don't require credentials. They need only be sentient human beings. What we hope for is that these commentaries will be provocative, passionate ... and, ideally, will spur discussion among our viewers about the issues they raise. We have great faith in our audience — and firmly believe that they are interested in hearing many points of view ... even opinions with which they might not agree.

"We have a handful of regular commentators we choose from ... our two principal voices being Nancy Giles and Ben Stein. Generally, contributors talk about what's on their minds — from mothers on Mother's Day (Stein) to America's obesity epidemic (Giles). Nancy called last week, expressing interest in doing something for last Sunday's broadcast ... I told her to write it up and we'd take a look.

"By the way — and I do think this is important — we fact-check every Opinion piece to make sure our contributors aren't making any misstatements. They speak their minds, but we make certain they AREN'T misstating the facts."