Is Free Speech Dead at CBS News?


Free speech may be the animating principle behind journalism, but it doesn’t necessarily make for good TV.

That’s what CBS News appears to be learning from the less-than-auspicious debut of "freeSpeech," the 90-second commentary segment on the CBS Evening News With Katie Couric.

Critics instantly pounced on the point-without-counterpoint spiels delivered by the likes of documentarian Morgan Spurlock and conservative pundit Rush Limbaugh, as well as less-telegenic talkers like comedy writer Jim Twohie.

Word from inside CBS News is that the segments have been unexpectedly labor-intensive, requiring some commentaries to be reshot and more than a little coaching for commentators who aren’t blessed with Limbaugh’s natural charm. And it remains to be seen whether Average Joes and Janes will be included in the "wide range of Americans" given a chance to sound off.

When CBS News President Sean McManus spoke to B&C just after the segments debuted, he acknowledged that "freeSpeech" was a work in progress. "I know ‘freeSpeech’ is a little controversial, and that is good," McManus says. "That it is causing discussion about an element in the Evening News is healthy. We’re going to continue to try it and see if it evolves."

If it doesn’t, "freeSpeech" may be dead at CBS News.