Programming

CBS News Chief On Bin Laden Reporting: Talks Couric, Gabby Giffords and More

News President tells B&C why the net opted for weekend anchor, Washington team for Sunday coverage -- not exiting anchor Couric 5/02/2011 03:02:31 PM Eastern

CBS News President David Rhodes said his team was careful about
everything they heard Sunday night regarding the reported killing of Osama bin
Laden by U.S. forces. In an
interview with B&C staff writer Andrea Morabito on Monday,
Rhodes explained why Katie
Couric, who is soon to depart theEvening News anchor chair, wasn't
on the air and why the network threw to local affiliates at midnight ET. An edited transcript follows.

Did the misreporting of Gabby Giffords' death a few months ago
play into when to confirm Osama bin Laden's death Sunday night?

That's a good question. Everybody went up, and we went up about 10:45. We did say right out of the gate that he was dead. I'm
not sure that was everybody's reporting at that time, but that was our
reporting, and we felt pretty good about it. We were pretty careful about the
providence about all of what we heard last night, but not because of any
special sensitivity leftover from the Giffords story; I think it was just
because it was as they say such a high-value target, you wouldn't want to get
that one wrong.

Take me through the timeline of what happened last night.

We had been working on some suggestion that something was up with
Bin Laden before that time, so when we got that call we didn't report, but did
for our planning purposes assume that that's what it was about so we were going
ahead on that basis.

How was talent picked, where was Katie?

Russ [Mitchell] is the weekend anchor and was on the shortest
string, so he had been in, he was suited up, so to speak. Events unfolded very
fast. What the real strength last night for us was the Washington and national security
coverage. We had Lara Logan, Bob Orr, Juan Zerate all part of the coverage
because they were the ones pursuing this.

It was basically a very tight timetable and we were able to get on
the field with a very, very good team, I thought that worked out fine and Katie
was really in good shape to bring in some more reporting to support a longer
program today.

Was she still traveling back from London at that point, or she
just wasn't able to get in in time?

It doesn't really matter if she was able to get in or not able to
get in. The thing that we were most concerned with as an organization was
having the reporting that we had in there last night. If you look back from 10:45 up until the president did speak later in the 11 p.m. hour, we had more people on the story and
more information about what was happening out there than anybody else.

Who made the calls at CBS and why to go back to regular
programming at
midnight?

We made four calls. First we did two crawls where we pushed back
the network programming and crawled that we were going to do something.

The first crawl was announcing that the president would speak
sometime after at 10:30 and that it would be
live on CBS stations, that was very close to about 10:30, even though we'd
heard at that time the remarks were probably slipping.

We did a second crawl before we came in at 10:45 to say remarks would be about bin Laden. We didn't say in
that crawl that he had been killed, because we didn't have that definitively at
that time, but we did say that the reason we were going to be coming in with
the president was because he was going to be talking about bin Laden, so we
crawled that. So that was the second push back of programming to run that
across the bottom on the screen.

Went on about 10:45 and reported
immediately that he had been killed, which I think was pretty aggressive, but
we had that from good sources at that time, not at the White House.

The President's remarks wrapped up around 11:45 and we had a lot of reporting to wrap out of that, took
that up through midnight Eastern Time and then
we gave it back there.

That I saw, NBC did something similar, I know ABC provided a
network program for the next hour. On the East Coast for instance, I know New York did a local program
from midnight. We coordinate pretty
closely with the affiliates, in the case of New York it was something they
probably wanted to do because of the way that bin Laden's acts over time
impacted this community more than any other.

Will you expand the Evening News the rest of this
week, like you are Monday night?

One thing about recent days is I'm learning not to predict what
we'll be doing the next day, so hard to say.

I'm not sure I anticipated that we would be interrupting primetime
last night even given what our reporting had been, but there you go, we went up
and did that for 75 minutes. Anything can happen.

 

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