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The broadcasting industry again demonstrated its squeamishness as CBS cancelled Eric Severeid's broadcast last Wednesday evening criticizing the State Department's decision to prevent U.S. newsmen from entering China. Edward R. Murrow, whose criticism of the same policy on the same network was allowed to run because it was read by a different editor, has reportedly been severely criticized by top CBS officials for "editorializing."
Ironically, the State Department's policy had previously been attacked by CBS, together with the American Newspaper Publishers Association, the major wire services, and individual newspapers as curbing journalistic freedom and the peoples' right to be informed. The rationale of CBS's action was to enforce their policy of news "analysis" rather than "editorializing," yet this distinction is almost so nebulous as to be non-existent. "Fairness" and "impartiality," as well as the power to choose which events should be covered, all depend on the judgment of the commentator. To deny him the right to express "opinions" is to negate the purpose of news "commentary" and to make them little more than extended newscasts. As Jack Gould put it in the Times, "Supposedly what emerges is an articulate and forceful middle-of-the-roader who is in there punching without inviting the risk of hitting anything."
ABC's policy of allowing a variety of viewpoints and opinions to be available to the audience seems far more sensible and productive. A balance of opinions is obviously a far more practical ideal than "impartial" coverage. CBS has one of the best news staffs in the industry, and the competent pundits it employs should have the right to express their informed judgments.
CBS's objection to this liberalization is that it involves "political coloration" in individual commentators. There are, of course, great difficulties and dangers in trying to achieve a balance of opinion, but they are far less than the dangers of having no opinions at all.
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