When CBS bought the billboard company, International Outdoor Advertising, last week, it confirmed that it was in the advertising delivery business and that its mission was to try to maximize profits for its shareholders. CBS thus distanced itself even further from the values of the CBS of Paley, Stanton, and Edward R. Murrow -- a proud old CBS -- in which serving the public good was a mission, or at least a consideration.
This purchase occurred in the same week as the publication of former CBS newsman Roger Mudd's well-reviewed book, The Place To Be: Washington, CBS, and the Glory Days of Television News. On the last page of the book, Mudd writes about the CBS News Washington Bureau: "We had no doubts about how good we were; we had no doubts about our values; we had no doubts that our mission was to cover the news without flattering or tricking the viewer. Most of us thought ourselves chosen. It was if we had been lifted up by a journalistic deity and dropped in the middle of the Washington bureau to serve our country by doing God's work."
In the glory days of CBS News Mudd appeared three times a day from the steps of the Capitol reporting on the Senate filibuster debate over the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Today CBS is more about sugary fluff like whether Katie Couric will stick around for the inauguration and "The Big Bang" than about nourishing news and entertainment.
It's ironic and telling that CBS is buying International Outdoor Advertising (IOA), a company that has no content except for advertising -- a goal CBS and the other television networks obviously embrace as they steadily increase the number of commercials and crowd out content. It's a vicious cycle: More commercials drive away viewers, which lowers ratings, which necessitates putting in more commercials to maintain profit levels, which drives away viewers, and so on until death do us part. Also, IOA is strong outside of the US and is moving to digital billboards -- giant TV sets in other words.
Therefore, what CBS is doing is taking TV out of the living room and onto the streets of the world and putting nothing but commercial messages on the big screens. So if we get sick of the sugary fluff on TV at home and try to escape it by going outside, we are accosted by huge TV sets showing nothing but commercials. Heads they win, tails you lose. The move is perfect Orwellian doublethink by CBS CEO Les Moonves, who got a 29 percent raise for driving the stock down almost 40 percent and who believes "news is entertainment," who probably believes that "war is peace," and who is more than likely laughing up his cuff linked sleeves at Mudd's notion of a journalistic deity dropping him and other newspeople in the middle of the Washington bureau to serve their country by doing God's work.
God's work, as everyone knows, is to make a profit by delivering advertising to the world.