FOCUS ON THE CORPORATION: 20 February 1998

Goodbye, Roberta:
The CBS-Nike Connection


CBS News reporter Robert Baskin has a problem -- she's not getting along with her boss.
In October 1996, Baskin broke the story of Nike's labor practices in Vietnam on CBS investigative program "48 Hours." Baskin traveled to Vietnam, talked with young women who make Nike shoes and heard tales of physical abuse, illegally low wages and long working hours.
Now, Nike is sponsoring CBS Sports' coverage of the Winter Olympics from Nagano.
Earlier this month, CBS News reporters covering the Olympics appeared on screen wearing the CBS logo on the left side of their parkas, with the world-famous Nike logo on the right.
Baskin hit the roof and on February 6, 1998 sent out a two- paged, single-spaced memo to executives throughout the CBS News hierarchy.
"As far as I could remember, in my 20 years in television journalism, it was the first time a network news organization had allowed its correspondents to double as billboards," Baskin wrote.
Baskin alleged that her boss, CBS News President Andrew Heyward, vetoed last July's scheduled rebroadcast and update of her "Nike in Vietnam" investigation.
"I urged 48 Hours executive producer Susan Zirinsky to change Andrew's mind," Baskin wrote. "Zirinsky told me she overheard new Vice president Jonathan King talking with Andrew Heyward, discussing a letter Nike had sent to the head of CBS Sales, expressing concern over the relationship between Nike and CBS at the Winter Games. I assumed it meant Nike probably was going to be a prime sponsor of CBS's Olympic coverage at a cost of millions of dollars and that Nike's concerns had to do with my report."
Baskin said that over the past year, she has suggested follow-up reports on Nike's labor practices when news warranted, but was told no.
Baskin said that she also wanted to respond to a Wall Street Journal op-ed attacking her reporting on the issue, but she was told she couldn't.
"Last night, when I saw CBS correspondents adorned with the Nike 'swoosh,' it became clear to me why Heyward had spiked all follow-up reports on my Nike investigation and blocked my reply to the criticisms printed in the Wall Street Journal," she wrote.
In a two-page "Dear Roberta" letter, Heyward professed that he was "shocked" and "amazed" at Baskin's "intemperate message."
"Your circulation of allegations of this kind to virtually the entire senior staff of CBS News without first having discussed them with me is not only a shocking breach of professional etiquette, but entirely unacceptable," Heyward wrote.
Heyward said he is "instructing all CBS News correspondents in Japan to ensure that the Nike logo is not visible when they appear on the air."
Heyward said that he nixed Baskin's reply to the Wall Street Journal op-ed piece because "I felt your proposed letter assumed a tone of advocacy that was journalistically inappropriate."
He said that the decision not to rerun Baskin's original Nike piece "had absolutely nothing to do with Nike's relationship with CBS."
Heyward denied spiking other news stories on Nike.
"The simple fact is this, Roberta," Heyward lectured. "There is no connection whatsoever -- NONE -- between Nike's sponsorship of the Olympic Games or any other CBS program it might sponsor and CBS News coverage of the Nike story.
Heyward said that Baskin's sending of the memo was "reckless and irresponsible."
But Heyward's huffing and puffing does not change the simple fact that CBS employees are still acting as Nike billboards.
For while CBS News reporters might no longer be allowed to wear the Nike "swoosh," CBS Sports said its reporters will continue to wear the "swoosh" on their parkas.
"Yes there is a deal," said Dana McClintock, a CBS Sports spokesperson said from Nagano. "We can't disclose the terms of the contract, but Nike is paying CBS and we're wearing the logo."
McClintock said that sports reporters promoting a sponsor's product "have become part of television sports."
"During the last winter Olympics, reporters wore the logo of NorthFace, and NBC reporters have worn the logo of ProPlayer," McClintock said.
And that is part of the deal, isn't it? That's what commercial television is about -- bowing down to the almighty corporation.
People like CBS reporter Roberta Baskin who have the gall to question the practices of Nike and other global corporations will be shown the door. Goodbye, Roberta.


Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter.
Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based
Multinational Monitor.

COPYRIGHT © RUSSELL MOKHIBER AND ROBERT WEISSMAN

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