Guest Commentary: Teed-off at CBS

Dec 9, 2002  •  Post A Comment

In this era of rampant corporate greed and malfeasance, I’d like to congratulate CBS for having the courage to put its values ahead of profit.
I’m referring, of course, to the Masters golf tournament, a broadcast that will likely lose at least a million dollars next year because CBS has agreed to air it without commercials rather than pressure Augusta National to admit women to its all-male club.
Loss leaders always reveal the core values of a company, and by airing the commercial-free Masters, CBS demonstrates it is willing to forgo its duty to shareholders in order to uphold the time-honored tradition of elite male privilege.
Congratulations, boys. Smoke a cigar and pat yourselves on the back.
I have to say it’s refreshing to see a company reveal its true colors.
There’s typically so much PR lip service paid to equality that it’s a breath of fresh air to see a company tell it like it is, to actually stand up and take it on the chin to champion gender discrimination.
It’s 2002, after all, and women of my generation tend to fool ourselves into thinking that we can do whatever we want, that the Old Boys Club no longer exists. Gender equality seems like a given. We take it for granted.
It’s nice, occasionally, to be smacked in the face and reminded that we’re not actually welcome at the table. We know our place. We’re trophies to be pimped out on shows such as ABC’s “The Bachelor” or paraded on specials such as CBS’s “Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.”
Power plays
And how appropriate that it’s in the world of golf that CBS is willing to plant its flag on behalf of the penis prerogative. Golf is, after all, what the media masters of the universe play. It’s on the fairways that the big boys schmooze and broker deals. It’s where the most exclusive power remains and where the huge money moves.
No wonder CBS/Viacom honchos Sean McManus, Leslie Moonves, Mel Karmazin and Sumner Redstone are willing to lose a million or two in the short run to preserve their spots at the top and on the course.
Do you think it’s a coincidence that women are excluded from Augusta membership and no women run any of the media conglomerates that own broadcast networks? Now that CBS has our attention, let’s take a closer look. Only 11 women run Fortune 1,000 companies, and none are media companies. With a few high-profile exceptions, the status of women in the TV business remains pretty pitiful.
The latest Radio-Television News Directors Association survey shows that women account for a mere 13 percent of TV station general managers, 12.6 percent at network affiliates. In the top 25 markets, the percentage plummets to a paltry 8 percent. Even worse, the number of women general managers at network affiliates actually dropped from a year ago, meaning the situation for women is deteriorating.
I’m not sure it could get any worse without the Taliban taking over. I’ll never forget my first National Association of Broadcasters convention eight years ago. I found myself in a sea of middle-age white guys, with a few scantily clad women serving as booth props to attract the men. It felt like such an anachronism, I thought I’d been transported back in time. Welcome to the world of the media elite. Anyone who thinks it’s not an issue is in deep denial.
It’s hard to believe we’re even debating whether CBS should dump the Masters unless the group changes its ways. I mean, give me a break. It’s a no-brainer. The network is condoning, subsidizing and handing over an incredible degree of control to an organization that shamelessly discriminates.
In addition to paying Augusta a multimillion-dollar rights fee, CBS allows Augusta to decide which sponsors, if any, may advertise and for how long. It permits Augusta to veto commentators and direct other aspects of the telecast. It’s beyond me that a network would relinquish responsibility for its airways to a private club that looks like a male supremacist group.
Just two years ago CBS agreed to shell out $8 million to 200 of its female employees to settle a sex discrimination action with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The women had charged the network with subjecting them to a pattern of discrimination in salary and promotions, creating a hostile work environment that included sexual harassment, and retaliating against female employees for complaining.
Under terms of the settlement, CBS signed a consent decree and adopted a nondiscrimination policy and a companywide training program. CBS also agreed to be monitored by the EEOC for four years. A lot of good that’s doing.
CBS won’t comment on the Masters debacle beyond a letter from Sports President Sean McManus to National Council of Women’s Organizations Chair Martha Burk, which said the show will go on: “To not do so would be a disservice to fans of this major championship.”
Ducking the issue
Perhaps CBS is hoping to pass the buck and duck the issue until the controversy dies down. Well Edmund Burke was right: Evil triumphs when good men do nothing.
“CBS could at least come out in favor of a commitment from Augusta National on the admission of a woman,” former CBS chief Thomas Wyman told The New York Times after resigning in protest from Augusta last week.
Defenders argue that CBS has no leverage to influence Augusta, and if the network drops the tournament, some other network will snap it up.
This concept of a powerless CBS is comical. Where’s Les Moonves, and when did he have this sudden attack of timidity? Les had no trouble throwing his weight around when he spearheaded the drive to keep the Emmys away from HBO.
CBS doesn’t have the guts to do the right thing because the network agrees with the wrong thing. That’s the only logical explanation. CBS wants to preserve the all-male sphere, with all its perks. It shares Augusta’s heel-digging desire to fall on its sword for the sake of sexism. No wonder the network has a hard time attracting younger viewers.
Next year’s tournament will certainly be a huge black eye at Black Rock, and all I have to say is shame on you, CBS.
Of course, there’s still time to reverse this embarrassing bad call. The network has until April to join this century or go down in history as a collection of spineless, sycophantic dinosaurs willing to swallow a lousy business deal to preserve an inequitable status quo.
Choose wisely, CBS. We’ll be watching. Or perhaps we’ll just change the channel and sell our stock instead.
Jenny Hontz, a writer in Los Angeles, was a reporter at Electronic Media, a TV editor at Daily Variety and VP of creative affairs at Touchstone TV. More recently, she has reported and written articles for The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times.