The Insider

Jun 17, 2002  •  Post A Comment

For someone often positioned as a bridge-builder, PBS President Pat Mitchell has left a lot of her former stablemates at CNN doing a slow burn after her June 11 op-ed column in USA Today in which Ms. Mitchell said that the dumbing-down of public dialogue can be blamed on the media’s lust for celebrity-obsessed young viewers. The only program or network she singled out by name was CNN and its midday program “TalkBack Live.”
“For me, this trend reached its apex when CNN’s `TalkBack Live’ did a feature in March about the 51 journalists who died in the line of duty in 2001,” Ms. Mitchell wrote in her commentary. “To discuss this tragedy and the reasons journalism is so much more dangerous today, `Talk Back Live’ had a special guest: actress Andie MacDowell?
“Why? Because in a new movie, `Harrison’s Flowers,’ MacDowell plays the wife of a photojournalist missing in Yugoslavia. She’s thoughtful and engaging, but far from an expert on the subject,” wrote Ms. Mitchell, whose choice of words has some wondering whether she, who certainly knows the difference between a “feature” and a live report from a war zone, even saw the program she rapped.
The Insider is not defending “TalkBack” as some paradigm of hard-hitting Journalism-With-a-Capital-J, just passing on the sense that the CNNers who felt that Ms. Mitchell wounded them also felt that if she had indeed criticized something she had not seen for herself it stung like a handful of salt.
For sure, there was no “feature,” only a seven-sentence, live-from-the-scene report from CNN correspondent Ben Wedeman about the violence in Ramallah that day. Five sentences were about two journalists caught in the crossfire. One was injured and the other killed. Then “TalkBack” host Arthel Neville lobbed soft questions at Ms. MacDowell and Newsweek’s director of photography Sarah Harbutt, whose duties include sending photographers into war zones.
A spokeswoman for Ms. Mitchell, who was head of CNN Productions and Time Inc. Television before she took over PBS in 2000, said Ms. Mitchell also had praised CNN coverage in the commencement speech from which the op-ed piece was excerpted. She also said that whether or not Ms. Mitchell had actually seen the “TalkBack” in question, the inclusion of an actress “seemed at best out of place in a news program.”
Hmmm. The Insider sooooo hates being old enough to remember the nonfiction specials Ms. Mitchell used to produce for Lifetime, programs that were hosted by actresses invariably right straight out of “thirtysomething” or “L.A. Law” who had diddly squat to do with the sober subjects under discussion.
Michael Jack is NBC’s new Mr. Diversity
The diversity baton at NBC has been passed from KNBC-TV President and General Manager Paula Madison to Michael Jack, who is the president and general manager of NBC-owned WCMH-TV in Columbus, Ohio, and, now, the senior VP of diversity for NBC. Mr. Jack, whose name is generally followed by “He’s a great guy,” spent 19 years in various ABC sales positions before switching to NBC in 1996. He was sales veep at KNBC in Los Angeles before taking over the sister station in Columbus, and he joined the network’s diversity council just a couple of months after it was formed.
The change, announced internally in the first week of June, will lighten the load of Ms. Madison, whose plate is more than full with the integration of NBC’s triopoly of interests in Los Angeles. The big initiatives of Ms. Madison’s diversity-council leadership were the second-year writer program, which creates spots for new voices during shows’ sophomore seasons, and the supplier diversity program.
It’s too early to know whether themes will change under Mr. Jack, said someone familiar with the situation. Meanwhile, Ms. Madison is expected to continue her involvement in the Emma Bowen Scholarship program and the network associates program.
Creating a taste for DailyCandy
Among the early stops some sources expect Adrienne Becker to make as the new CEO of DailyCandy are NBC, ABC, MTV and VH1 in an effort to raise the profile the edgy online trend tracker in mainstream media. The 33-year-old senior VP of operations for USA Networks’ entertainment group, formerly a spokeswoman for CBS and the Clinton/Gore presidential campaign, isn’t saying much about what she’ll do as her own boss. But sources say the service that bills itself as a Virtual Word of Mouth, already the subject of a regularly featured segment on WNBC-TV in New York, could show up as a sponsored segment on NBC’s “Today Show” or ABC’s “Good Morning America,” or eventually as a series catering to high-income, well-educated women age 25 to 34. Using everything she learned during the past three years as a right hand to USA Interactive Chairman Barry Diller, Ms. Becker says she will expand DailyCandy’s male appeal and e-commerce activities. “There are so many things we will talk to companies like USA Interactive about doing together,” she said. “I have had the world’s best training from Barry. Now it’s time for me to go see what I really know.”