Anti-Bush General John Batiste Dismissed from CBS News

Updates at bottom of post.

The CBSNews.com blog "Public Eye" reported today that a retired general who has appeared in anti-Bush TV ads has been dismissed as a CBS News military analyst due to his political activism. Yet the CBS executive who defended the move seemed to almost blame CBS's at-home audience for the personnel decision.

Maj. Gen. John Batiste (US Army, Retired) may still be quoted on CBS's newscasts, he just won't get paid for it.

"We might still go to the general to ask about things, but not as a consultant to CBS News," CBS News Senior Vice President for Standards Linda Mason was quoted by editor Brian Montopoli.

Montopoli quoted Mason's rationale for asking Batiste to leave (emphasis mine):

"When we hire someone as a consultant, we want them to share their expertise with our viewers," she [Mason] said. "By putting himself front and center in an anti-Bush ad, the viewer might have the feeling everything he says is anti-Bush. And that doesn’t seem like an analytical approach to the issues we want to discuss."

[...]

She said that Batiste's appearance in the ad marked a violation of CBS News standards, in which “we ask that people not be involved in advocacy.”

CBS was right to dismiss Batiste. A network-paid military analyst simultaneously working as a partisan activist is, to say the least, not good journalistic practice. That being said, it's odd that Mason couched the firing as a concern for how "the viewer might have the feeling" that Batiste is a partisan, rather than defending the decision in terms of upholding journalistic integrity.

NewsBusters and the Media Research Center will be watching to see if CBS News features Batiste in future stories without including mention of his participation in an anti-Bush TV ad.

Update (15:28 EDT): Here's something for the "dog bites man" file. Time magazine writer, blogger, and biased journalist extraordinaire Joe Klein calls the decision by CBS News "outrageous." Remember, this is the same guy that said the "spinners" of the Bush administration should be forced to clean out the bed pans at Walter Reed.

Update (10:50 EDT, May 14): In an update to his post, Montopoli noted that Mason clarified the issue was not Batiste's mere advocacy of a policy position, but rather that Batiste took part in a commercial campaign by an activist group. "She also said that the decision would have been the same had Batiste appeared in a similar ad in support of the president," Montpoli wrote.

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is a writer living in New Carrollton, Md.