In the latest desperate move to attract viewers, CBS anchor Sharon Reed of WOIO Cleveland stripped naked and participated in a mass nude photo shoot coordinated by artist Spencer Tunick. Her piece was shot in June and held for airing until the November sweeps when viewership is calculated and then used to set advertising rates for the following quarter. Reed told The Plain Dealer in Cleveland: “I’m in it to win. When did that become a crime?”
Other comments by Reed were less forthright as she attempted to put a ridiculous spin on the subject. She claimed she did it for art, that it wasn’t about sex and titillation. She even tried to portray herself as something of a heroic figure and groundbreaking journalist, saying it was “hard to do” and it had “changed her life.”
The Reed decision split the CBS newsroom in Cleveland. Heated arguments and strife followed. Reed even did a follow-up story on the anger in the newsroom, adding the threadbare argument that not hiding anything from the viewers automatically conferred journalistic significance on a story. Can a Sharon Reed porno site be far behind? Perhaps we’ll be able to watch her brush her teeth and take the garbage out. Don Shelby, a CBS anchor at WCCO-TV in Minneapolis said, “This threatens to turn us into something of a cartoon, if we weren’t already.” But a cartoon takes work. Taking your clothes off does not.
Over at ABC, the network ran a promo before an NFL football game featuring an actress from “Desperate Housewives” dropping her only piece of clothing-a towel-in order to seduce a football player. “Desperate Housewives,” which is mostly about women committing adultery and acting like juvenile delinquents, has now made the cover of Newsweek. That suggests there are large numbers of people who wonder how low network TV will sink. We are among them.
While industry observers speculate that CBS in Cleveland will not incur an FCC penalty over the Sharon Reed nudity spectacle, Bob Priddy of the Radio-Television News Directors Association said, “I think the general reaction in the industry has been one of surprise and disgust. I don’t see how this can engender confidence in the quality of news we think we are doing, and it manages to justify the harsh criticism that we often face in our industry.”
The Reed broadcast didn’t even qualify as “pretend” journalism. The word “pretend” was originally used after bloggers had exposed CBS using phony documents to portray President Bush’s National Guard service in a negative light. A former CBS reporter attacked the bloggers as irresponsible purveyors of “pretend journalism.” But what would you call Sharon Reed’s stunt? It was designed to garner ratings from the voyeurs. But the way things are going at CBS, with its dwindling ratings, she might be seriously considered in the running to be Dan Rather’s successor. They could do worst?Rather sidekick John Roberts, who is closely associated with the “Rather biased” approach to the news, is rumored to be in the running to take over Rather’s chair. If picked, Roberts will continue the CBS slide into oblivion.