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Too Many Of The Usual Suspects?

The new freeSpeech segment on the CBS "Evening News" has been the subject of much criticism lately, some of which we've addressed before. Columbine parent Brian Rohrbough's commentary was received with much ire from viewers, for example, and Executive Producer Rome Hartman discussed his decision to air it.

We've also taken a look inside the process -- how do the producers choose their subjects? What is the philosophy behind the segment? Producer Marc Rosenwasser told us back in September that the intent of the segment is that over time, it will be "the most unpredictable mix of well known people and completely unknown people," he said, adding that, "We're anxious for it not to be the 'usual suspects.' We're anxious to hear from parts of the community that are typically not heard from on network television."

"It's going to be a rich mix of people, well-known and less well-known and it will only reveal itself in its fullness over time," Rosenwasser said at the time.

After two months, however, some viewers don't feel there is enough attention being paid to those less well-known individuals.

A month into the project, John Eggerton of Broadcasting & Cable wondered: "Is CBS short of regular folks ready to weigh in on the topics of the day?"

Public Eye reader Jan L. wrote to us this week expressing her disappointment: "I am sure I am just one of thousands who believe CBS and other networks and cable should give free speech to ALL, not just to well known commentators or radio personalities."

TVNewser's opinion on the matter was more pronounced, with a headline that read, "'freeSpeech' Has Failed." The site's editor, Brian Stelter, compiled a list of who had appeared in the segments from the beginning through Oct. 20 and noting which had a "national media platform." Wrote Stelter, "The vast majority of the guests have national media platforms, like books, columns, magazines, and Senate podiums."

Does the segment contain too much from the "usual suspects"?

"I think the answer is that it has been a mix," said Hartman in an e-mail responding to such criticism. "If you look at all 30 or so [segments] that have run - and I haven't counted - maybe a third have been from what you might call 'pundits.' The point of the segment is interesting voices from everywhere."

All the segments are listed here, along with transcripts of their commentaries, so check them out and decide for yourself whether the mix is what it should be.

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