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TCA 2012: CBS News Execs Stress Accuracy Amid Flurry of Competitor Gaffes

“We weren’t always first, but we were accurate and comprehensive,” Jeff Fager says of the division's coverage of the Aurora, Colo., shooting and the Supreme Court decision on President Obama’s healthcare law.

Jeff Fager - CBS News - TCA - P 2012
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Jeff Fager

CBS News chairman Jeff Fager opened the final session of the network’s summer press tour Sunday with a soliloquy about the CBS News mission of quality reporting. It was a speech that alluded to gaffes at competing news organizations.

“We weren’t always first, but we were accurate and comprehensive,” said Fager, referring to the news division’s reporting on the Aurora, Colo., shooting and the Supreme Court decision on President Obama’s healthcare law.

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Both stories were marked by mistakes: CNN and Fox News botched the Supreme Court decision, and ABC News’ Brian Ross mistakenly linked shooting suspect James Holmes to the Colorado Tea Party. 

Since he assumed the chairmanship of CBS News in February 2011 with David Rhodes as president and Fager's second-in-command, they have stressed bringing the in-depth and careful reporting of 60 Minutes to the news division’s daily broadcasts. 

“The standards and values that we practice at 60 Minutes are what we’re trying emphasize,” said Fager, who continues to executive produce that show. “How intense the process is at 60 Minutes, how much we care about every line, about every interview, about not taking people out of context.”

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The tonal shift is most evident at the network’s morning program. And CBS This Morning will make another change this fall when Norah O’Donnell officially joins the show as co-host with Gayle King and Charlie Rose. Rhodes also announced that Anthony Mason will become a regular on the weekend edition of CBS This Morning with Rebecca Jarvis, and Bob Schieffer's Face the Nation will permanently expand to an hour. 

Executives did not specifically address questions about when the decision was made to replace Erica Hill with O'Donnell, though they reiterated that they want her to stay at the news division. But Fager cited O'Donnell's reporting skills and insight gained as a longtime White House correspondent as among the reasons for the change.

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CBS has not seen significant ratings gains since it bowed its morning show in January. But CBS News is sticking to its knitting. “We never want to pander to an audience,” said Fager.

“We don’t want to just get a get because it’s today’s tabloid story.”“I’m never going to get a phone call from Jeff or David saying: ‘Why don’t you have this thing that ABC has?” said Chris Licht, executive producer of CBS This Morning.

To which Rhodes added: “Because it’s probably not true.”

Email: Marisa.Guthrie@thr.com; Twitter: @MarisaGuthrie