CBS Endures Another Fakery Scandal

February 24th, 2006 8:14 AM
CBS is in trouble for a "48 Hours" story that changed the front page photo of a Missouri newspaper. The original front page photo from the Columbia Daily Tribune showed convicted murder Ryan Ferguson wearing an orange prison jumpsuit. CBS altered the newspaper's front page by putting in a different picture but representing it as from the newspaper. The new picture showed Ferguson wearing a suit and tie.

The story, entitled "Dream Killer," questions whether Ryan Ferguson was convicted unjustly.

"48 Hours" executive producer Susan Zirinsky says it "was an egregious oversight for us not to know it," although "we don’t feel it changed the editorial value of the story, per se."

The Columbia Daily Tribune interviewed Bob Steele on the ethics of CBS' actions. Steele teaches ethics at the Poynter Institute, a journalism training center in Florida.

"What they did wrong was twofold," he said. "One, they altered reality by changing a piece of documentary journalism.

"Secondly, they deceived their viewers because they left them with the impression that what they showed was a truthful representation of what the newspaper showed."

The newspaper has a special involvement in the case because the man Ferguson was convicted of killing was Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt. Several front pages from the newspaper were shown throughout the program.

Zirinsky claimed it was a new outside freelancer who was responsible for the alteration, but Poynter's Bob Steele said CBS "retains the responsibility of what they put on the air, including how" its news "is gathered and how it is produced."

It's not clear why someone would want to change the picture, although the new version makes Ferguson look more respectable in a report trying to clear his name.