NEW YORK — CBS News is mad as hell, and it’s not going to take it anymore — at least when it comes to the New York Times.
On Monday, CBS let the Gray Lady have it with its response to a potentially damaging Times article on practices the Eye used in its attempt to land the first exclusive interview with U.S. Army PFC Jessica Lynch
“Unlike the New York Times’ own ethical problems, there is no question about the accuracy or integrity of CBS News’ reporting,” the net said in a statement, an apparent reference to the Jayson Blair affair.
The Times story, appearing in Monday’s paper and written by staff corespondent Jim Rutenberg, suggested that CBS told Lynch that other divisions of the Viacom empire would likely offer to do other separate projects. Some of those sister orgs included CBS Entertainment, Simon & Schuster and MTV Networks.
Rutenberg’s story relied on a letter written to Lynch’s representatives by CBS senior veep Betsy West, a copy of which the Times obtained.
But CBS News said that the Times left out crucial disclaimers sprinkled throughout the letter. At the same time, CBS refused to release a copy of the letter to the press, saying it didn’t want to further the frenzy.
“CBS News does not pay for interviews and it maintains a well-established separation from other parts of Viacom,” the CBS statement said. “The letters selectively quoted by the Times, when read in their entirety, make that explicitly clear.” The disclaimers included in the letter to Lynch’s reps included, “CBS News maintains editorial independence from the entertainment division; “we never tie interview requests to entertainment projects”; and “we wanted to make sure that CBS News’ proposal was being considered as a single entity,” the CBS statement said.
“Mysteriously, none of those statements found their way into the ‘newspaper of record,’ ” CBS said.
New York Times spokesman Toby Usnik told Daily Variety that the newspaper stood behind Rutenberg’s article.
“Per your query, we believe our coverage was thorough, accurate and fair — and fully representative of the complete document in our possession,” Usnik said.
Rutenberg referred all questions to Usnik’s office.
Media execs said they were caught off guard by the tone of CBS’ statement. They also questioned why CBS wouldn’t release the full letter in question.
Had the Times not gone through its recent dramatics, it is doubtful that CBS would have ever levied the sort of attack it did Monday.
There is no doubt that Lynch remains hot media property, with other news networks also putting in their bids. It is hardly unusual for news nets to woo people such as Lynch, including promises of promotion and access.
Lynch became instantly famous when U.S. troops reported staging a dramatic rescue in southern Iraq. The U.S. government said Lynch had been taken prisoner by Iraqi forces.
Subsequently, a BBC documentary suggested the rescue was a Hollywood-style stunt designed to boost patriotic support for the war — something the Pentagon has denied.
ICM will rep
Also Monday, Lynch signed with ICM to represent her in all areas.
In a similar move last summer, ICM secured life rights to the Quecreek miners, then brokered a $1.5 million deal for the miners’ story with ABC and Hyperion Books.
(Jonathan Bing in Los Angeles contributed to this report.)