That rumble you just heard came from Edward R. Murrow’s grave as he turned over. The CBS News pioneer has to be disgusted to learn that his once-proud organization is stooping to produce something so tired and tabloidy as “Scandal!,” a new half-hour series strip that aims to fish the bottom of the human reservoir and repackage sensational material using the illusion of a fresh spin. Yeah, right.
The premise: let’s go back to a notorious event in recent American history, splice together a whole lot of old footage that’s just sitting in the vault gathering dust, augment it with some new interviews and make everyone think you have just reinvented the journalistic wheel rather than followed in the esteemed footsteps of the New York Post. This is what happens when you’re a cable network like CBS Eye On People (Peephole?) with 24 long hours to fill each day and little more than yesterday’s news with which to fill it.
First up for the weeknight entry is a look back at Chappaquiddick, the scandal that sent Teddy Kennedy’s stock plummeting. A woman named Mary Jo Kopechne died when the car she was riding in with Kennedy plunged off a bridge into the water late on the night of July 18, 1969. Kennedy failed to report the incident until nine the following morning. Whoops.
New chats with the area’s police chief Dominick Arena and Boston Globe cop reporter Stephen Kurkjian lead anchor Richard Schlesinger to the startling conclusion that the incident forever quashed Kennedy’s presidential hopes (imagine it!). But since Kopechne was fished out of the water fully clothed, Kennedy was evidently something resembling a perfect gentleman prior to her being trapped underwater. A load off of all our minds.
But wait, there’s more. It seems that on the morning after his car crashed into the drink, Kennedy said hello to some neighbors on the balcony of his hotel and didn’t appear perturbed at all! This tends to paint Kennedy as a sociopath. That, or a career politician. Take your pick.
The point of all of this isn’t immediately clear. Okay, so Kennedy wasn’t treated like any other potential manslaughter suspect at the time and was basically permitted to walk. He was a Kennedy, after all. But so what? This happened 29 years ago. Can’t we all just kinda move on?
Nope. When you’re CBS Eye On People (the cable flop soon to be taken over by Discovery Networks Inc.), the past is something to be tweaked, trumped up and treated like a genuine scoop. Too bad this is what it’s come to for CBS News Prods. Of course, when the day’s top story involves presidential semen stains, what should we expect?