The Tiffany Network to hock its crown jewel?

The network of Edward R. Murrow has decided to outsource its reporting, according to the New York Times. CBS, which has never recovered from its insistence on airing phony documents regarding George Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard, has opened talks with Time Warner to have CNN provide most of its actual reporting. The deal would leave Katie Couric fronting the third-place CBS Evening News, but essentially presenting a CNN feed:

CBS, the home of the most celebrated news division in broadcasting, has been in discussions with Time Warner about a deal to outsource some of its news-gathering operations to CNN, two executives briefed on the matter said Monday.

Over the last decade, CNN has held intermittent talks with both ABC News and CBS News about various joint ventures. But during the last several months, talks with CBS have been revived and lately intensified, according to the executives who asked for anonymity because of the confidential nature of the negotiations.

Broadly speaking, the executives described conversations about reducing CBS’s news-gathering capacity while keeping its frontline personalities, like Katie Couric, the CBS Evening News anchor, and paying a fee to CNN to buy the cable network’s news feeds.

Another possibility, these people said, would be for CBS to keep its correspondents in certain regions but pair them with CNN crews.

It will provide an ignominious end to a storied news organization, but an entirely predictable and avoidable denouement. The end began four years ago, when its 60 Minutes II decided to allow Mary Mapes to run a badly-sourced accusation of malfeasance against Bush in the middle of a general election, and then refused to acknowledge the obviously forged memos at the heart of those allegations and the disturbed single source they used to get them.

Suddenly, it became apparent that the grown-ups at CBS News had all retired. Dan Rather went from news editor to talking head, according to his own description of his role, and no one apparently exercised the least bit of editorial control over Mary Mapes. Utterly exposed, the network finally pushed Rather from his perch and eventually hired Couric to replace him — and then insulted the intelligence of both Couric and her audience by turning the evening news into a later version of their morning show. Eventually they returned to actual news, but by then anyone serious about news had found other sources for it.

Now CBS plans to capitulate altogether. They have tried cutting deals with other news organizations for partnerships, including ABC, but simply couldn’t convince anyone to partner with their stumbling news division. Instead of cleaning house and finding people who want to focus on actual news-gathering, rather than their politically-motivated hit pieces, CBS wants to throw in the towel.

It’s an amazing decision. News has much more focus, as well as much more competition, in the age of the Internet. CBS had an opportunity at the advent of the Internet to leverage its reputation to build a strong audience for its news product, but instead ignored the new market. Now it wants to surrender entirely and have CNN do what CBS should have done on its own.

Power Line has more on this, including the latest politically-motivated hit piece from 60 Minutes.