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New Standards For CBS News

CBS News employees recently received a revised version of the CBS News Standards book. I talked to Linda Mason, CBS News Senior Vice President, Standards and Special Projects, about the revisions.

One change from the previous version: A rule forbidding contributions to political campaigns. Such contributions had not been prohibited before.

"We want our reporters to be absolutely pure when they interview candidates of either side or issues that relate to either side," said Mason. "Today, with the instant reporting of political contributions, it has become obvious who gives and to whom, and this we felt would compromise the people who were doing reporting involved with political issues."

I asked Mason why a reporter can't be balanced and still contribute to a campaign. Isn't there a concern that the organization is impinging on the right to free speech of its employees?

"That's fair to argue, and in fact it has been argued here," said Mason. "Our feeling is if you indicate in any way support for one party or another, your reporting will be challenged. Now, somebody took it a step further and said that if you looked at the whole organization there would be a certain number of people for Republicans, a certain number for Democrats, and they kind of cancel each other out. But the problem is each story is looked at as an individual story, and not everybody watches everything on CBS News, so we came to this conclusion."

Another new rule is that prior approval from Mason or CBS News President Sean McManus is required for any outside writing, speeches or blogs.

"There has always been outside approval required for outside speeches, outside writing – books, magazines, op-eds," said Mason. "And that's so that, again, your opinions don't reflect badly on CBS, or in any way show bias towards one side or the other. On blogs, that's a whole new thing. We can't have people having personal blogs venting their opinions. So we ask when people have a blog that they tell me about it, and the people who have told me about it mainly have blogs that deal with running, or with gardening, or something totally apart from CBS or political issues. And that's fine."

Why, I asked, aren't the standards posted on the Internet for public consumption?

"We've never made the standards public," said Mason. "This is a private, internal business. This is our internal way of working and it stays internal."

I also asked Mason what, in her opinion, was the most significant change in the new standards. She argued there really weren't any big changes.

"What's so gratifying about this is how little we did, and that the basic assumptions remain," said Mason. "We want CBS News to be fair and accurate, and we have laid out a roadmap to be fair and accurate. What we've done is updated to present day circumstances…to make it pertinent to people working today."

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