On Tuesday, during the Viewpoints breakfast sponsored by The Wall Street Journal, CBS CEO Les Moonves said that while he was very happy with the current state of the news division, it isn’t a big contributor to the bottom line, but is good for the company’s image:
We covered the election, and the election night returns were great. It doesn’t help the bottom line, but it is very important for the image of CBS, and our place in society.
That place in society, according to Moonves, is providing a public service. He feels the news division does an extraordinary job at that.
If he is talking about presenting liberally biased news to the public, then I won’t disagree. But as we acknowledged earlier this year, CBS News has also done some excellent reporting , such as by Sharyl Attkisson, who led the way in the mainstream media on Obama administration scandals such as Operation Fast and Furious, and Solyndra. While CBS may consider its news division to be a public service—and we agree that sometimes it is—it is also a business, attempting to generate profits.
It sounds like Moonves is just trying to provide cover for an under-performing part of the company by claiming to place the public good over profits. But I have no doubt that he would love to replicate the profits that NBC generates from The Today Show alone, so he could provide more of what he considers to be the public good, in the form of a better news product.
Moonves was also upbeat about 60 Minutes, which although it has lost some steam over the years is still a top 25 show and makes a “nice profit.” But he glossed over the problems of both CBS This Morning and the Evening News, which have been dead last in the ratings for years, and continue to be a financial drag on the network.
The news division isn’t going away any time soon, but it is also clear that Moonves doesn’t have any answers on how to turn the division into an engine of profit.