CBS’ top executive complained Saturday that the network’s news division, embroiled in questions about how “60 Minutes” obtained an interview with Michael Jackson, is held to a higher standard than its rivals.
CBS Chairman Leslie Moonves used the phrase “quid pro quo” in explaining how the Jackson interview was coupled with an entertainment special, but said he would do it again.
“I think CBS News and CBS is held to a different standard,” Moonves told the Television Critics Association. “We’re more under the microscope than other people about this issue.”
Moonves wouldn’t make any specific accusations about other networks. But he said the relationship between a network that does television movies about ripped-from-the-headlines stories, like ABC did with a trapped Pennsylvania miner, and news interviews with the people involved in those stories, should be examined. An ABC News spokeswoman, Lisa Finkel, said the interview and movie deal were handled completely separately.
More broadly, some at CBS believe the Jackson case should also be seen in the context of entertainment stars that give exclusive news interviews to networks that air their products.
Last summer, Moonves said CBS “went over the line” in another controversy involving news and entertainment. At that time, a CBS News executive seeking an interview with former prisoner of war Jessica Lynch raised the possibility of a TV movie and other opportunities available within CBS’ parent company, Viacom.
But in the Jackson case, Moonves said, “I don’t feel it was the wrong move.”
CBS News President Andrew Heyward didn’t necessarily agree that CBS is being judged differently than its rivals, but said, “we welcome the fact that we’re held to a high standard.”
CBS in November postponed a Jackson tribute special coinciding with the release of a greatest hits album when the pop star’s molestation case became public. Jackson pleaded innocent Friday to charges he performed lewd or lascivious acts on a child under age 14.
The network told Jackson the postponed entertainment special wouldn’t run unless he addressed the case against him. The special, which aired Jan. 2, was put on the CBS schedule the day after Jackson sat down with “60 Minutes” correspondent Ed Bradley.
Moonves denied that CBS sweetened its deal for the entertainment special when Jackson agreed to do the interview.
“The only quid pro quo we did was that if you address the charges, we will run the special,” he said.
He wouldn’t say how much Jackson was paid for the special. CBS has said that the pop star would not have been paid if the special hadn’t aired.
CBS News insists it never pays for interviews. Heyward said he believes the public understands the distinction in this case.
“We were overt about it,” he said. “We said it. People can make their own judgment. Absolutely, that’s not a payment. We categorically didn’t pay and won’t pay. That is not going to change.”