Former CBS Anchor Blames Deregulation for Deterioration of TV News

     One might think in the free market of ideas, increased competition would inspire more innovation, leading to more and better choices for the consumer.


     Roger Mudd, a former “CBS Evening News” weekend and fill-in anchor and co-host of NBC’s “Meet the Press” and “Nightly News,” said more choices have caused the quality of TV news to decrease instead of increase.


     “[B]ut there were so few [good TV news writers] because we became dependent on pictures and that coupled with deregulation of television, when you had three, four networks – and suddenly, there are 20, then there are 50 and now there are 300 and however many – 500. And as a consequence, the pie that used to be sliced three or four ways is now slivers and as a consequence, everybody is trying to hold on to their little audience and to do that, you got to entertain.”


     Mudd spoke to an audience at Politics & Prose Bookstore in Washington, D.C., on April 13. He was promoting his book “The Place to Be: Washington, CBS, and the Glory Days of Television News.” The former CBS News personality blamed the lapse in quality on the lack of newspaper and radio experience TV personalities had, beginning in the 1980s.


     “[I]t is true that most of the early radio men and women were former newspaper reporters and the early radio commentators like Floyd Gibbons and Boake Carter and all those early – Lowell Thomas – they had lived a life and had some experience that they brought with them that gave them the credibility,” Mudd said.


     “So those early radio people had the experience and the discipline of being newspaper reporters. Now – and that continued through the ‘70s, but with the expansion of television and with the demands of television, and this insatiable appetite that television has to feed, they couldn’t get enough of the old newspaper guys, so they just began to hire people without much newspaper experience,” he said.


    Mudd said “the one bright light that still shines” was PBS’s “NewsHour with Jim Lehrer,” but that there was very little cause for optimism for TV news.


     “It’s disappointing and it’s almost self-defeating because the attention-span is getting shorter and shorter,” Mudd added.


     Mudd accused the media of “following the flag” in the lead-up to the Iraq war for not altering public opinion prior to the invasion.


     “[I] think that one of the weaknesses with the press, more so with television, is that they tend to follow the flag in times of national crisis, when all his advisors say this is the way it is,” Mudd said. “The tendency is – there are exceptions like the McClatchy papers for instance – the tendency is to go with the leadership and that gets us into a lot of trouble. It’s not self-correcting and I think in this case, those were the circumstances that caused the press to wobble on following up with what should have been followed up.”


     The McClatchy Company (NYSE:MNI) – owner of The Miami Herald, The Sacramento Bee, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, The Kansas City Star and The Charlotte Observer – like a lot of legacy newspaper companies, has fallen on hard times and has seen its stock bottom out over the last three years.