CBS News issued a public apology at the end of Saturday’s “48 Hours” episode and on the newsmagazine’s Web site for altering a photo on the front page of The Columbia Daily Tribune. The photo was shown during a “48 Hours” segment about the conviction of Ryan Ferguson for the murder of Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt.Henry J. Waters III, publisher of the victimized Tribune, took CBS to task for its "show business masquerading as journalism."
Shows like CBS’ "48 Hours" take real events and jig them up to titillate viewers. The producers thought they had something hot in our own local case involving the murder of Tribune Sports Editor Kent Heitholt. When the story didn’t quite pan out as they hoped, they tried to salvage what they could by spinning the facts....The new picture was meant to show the convicted murderer in a positive light, not in a prison jumpsuit. This is the same technique, but with the opposite intention, that Time magazine used when it manipulated a picture of OJ Simpson during his trial, darkening it to make him look more ominous.
As the trial unfolded and the case against Ferguson became more evident, the outcome "48 Hours" clearly coveted evaporated. The producers shifted the show’s slant from a sensational report about a failed prosecution into a broad hint about failed justice. Anyone who closely watched both the trial and the show could not avoid seeing the spin.
It culminated in a dramatic substitution of a front-page photograph from our newspaper. The TV screen showed the Tribune front page just as it appeared after Ferguson’s sentencing, with one major exception. Instead of showing the picture we ran of Ferguson in an orange prison jump suit, "48 Hours" showed an earlier picture of Ferguson in a coat and tie, as he appeared when his lawyers had him dressed up for the jury.
"48 Hours" implied Ferguson was wrongly convicted. When Tribune Managing Editor Jim Robertson objected to the TV manipulation, "48 Hours" producer Susan Zirinsky said she knew nothing of the photo switch because it was done by a freelance editor, as if that fact makes any difference. Zirinsky said it was just a graphic, "and we don’t feel it changed the editorial value of the story, per se."