“BALLISTIC BOSS” AND “TANTRUM-PRONE” NO MORE

Icorrect: this girls new BFF

For three years I have lived with the collateral damage of a deliberate and continuing cyber smear campaign from a handful of detractors who have hidden behind the time-honored protection given anonymous news sources. They are more school yard bullies than protected sources in the traditions of  great journalism.  But even with school yard bullies, you at least know who they are.

Two old stories in particular (2007 and 2008) were actually manipulated  for years to reappear on the first page of my Google Search. Both articles, highly sexist,  were based on false or twisted information provided by those with apparent malice who choose to  portray me as a workplace wackjob.

At the time the articles first appeared, I made a decision to take the high ground and ignore the bad press.  I now know that decision was wrong; not defending myself against the many lies let them  live on, unchallenged,  in cyberspace, a new world that has a real and measurable impact.

The “anonymouses” were actually “winning.”   But today, in the words of one ESPN anchor, “Not so fast, my friend.”

Today, the New York Times  has an article in the Week In Review section called “Celebrities Set the Record Straight” about  a new website called ICorrect.com where , for a membership fee of $1,000, one can correct a false story and then see your correction posted side by side with the original accusation.  The NYT story today features Stephen Fry, Bianca Jagger, Michael Caine, Tommy Hillfiger, Kevin Spacey and me!

If $1,000 seems like a lot of money, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the $65,000 I was quoted by one company  to chase down all the lies that had been ricocheting around the internet. That was just to start; there was no promise to tackle unforeseen problems, such as what turned out to be a cyber “stalker(s)” who, regardless of any accomplishments, will manipulate the headlines with the words “Ballistic Boss” and “Tantrum-Prone” back to the top of my search page.

The most vicious stories were published at the end of my 17-year tenure at ABC News, then at the end of a much shorter one at CBS News where, after 23 weeks as senior executive producer of The Early Show, the bad press was at a fever pitch and I was asked to leave.

March 3, 2008 was my last day at CBS News and, ironically,  also the day I was about to assign the story of Paul Tilley, a 40-year-old creative chief of an ad agency, DDB Chicago. A week and a half earlier Tilly, a husband and father of two, jumped to a violent death from an upper floor of the Fairmont Hotel,  the building next door to his offices.  The talented Mr. Tilley had been the target of vicious, anonymous blogs on two ad industry websites.

At the time, I named this new phenomenon blood blogging, a far more accurate phrase than Sarah Palin’s more recent blood libel, and certainly less incendiary.  To me, blood blogging seems more of a sport than anything else, one designed by those not particularly witty, talented or inspired, but rather  those who are seemingly disgruntled, disenfranchised and not willing to put their own ideas front and center for anyone to notice, let alone judge.

Under the cloak of anonymity, they tear others down, wound with words and when all else fails, make stuff up.

The blood blogging of me began even before I even accepted the CBS job, when it was published that  my secret contract negotiations to become senior executive producer of The Early Show were halted because Katie Couric was mad at me.  Not true, but the lightning round of phone calls from reporters revealed one certainty: someone was working a sabotage story pretty aggressively.  I was hoping this was just a little gossipy speed bump, but not so.  Following my introduction to The Early Show staff, I gave my first talk about the difficult but exciting days ahead as we faced the challenge of moving out of third place.   Soon after that, my old pals at ABC called and repeated back my words, almost verbatim, and even told me their favorite parts of the Q&A session.   When I officially began work at CBS  the next week, I changed the pass code to the telephone conference bridge.

The steady stream of malicious gossip began pretty early. I “melted down,” went “ballistic,” “became enraged” and “threw temper tantrums” in meetings I did not attend, in hallways I didn’t walk in and on phone calls I never placed or received.   In the early days, almost like clockwork each Friday afternoon at about ten to six, my boss and  I would be handed a demeaning anonymous item to confirm or deny for Page Six of the New York Post.  Despite the clear and specific denials from the president of the news division, Page Six eventually ran one big story anyway, telling our publicist, “but our source is so good.”  Perhaps the source had an ulterior motive.

As one website picked up each false and malicious story from the other,  personal threats began, some addressing what should happen to terrible bosses like me.  There was simply no recourse, until now.  

At CBS News, as perhaps was the case with Paul Tilley’s Chicago ad agency, the staff found change a bit scary.   Ironically, at The Early Show, most came around, rallied behind me and greatly improved the show. Audiences responded, and in what was clearly a slow news cycle (see table one,) Early Show viewers surged to record numbers.  I actually met the crazy deadline I was given of 15 weeks to build and furnish a new studio, change the graphics, music, open, pacing, content and on-air talent for and more.  I hired nearly 20 new people and battled on behalf of nearly a dozen more who my competitors bolted down with extravagant new contracts.  And now ICorrect has given me a place to spread the truth, which I always believed would win out in the end.

ICorrect calls itself the universal website for corrections to lies, misinformation and misrepresentations.” I can only hope that it becomes as commonly used as the yellow pages.

Nielsen ratings season-to-date (A 25-54)

So far, I have only corrected  three items on ICorrect, the two above-mentioned, and a third from TVNewser, an industry website which has published many lies and false stories. This particular TVNewser item ran on  March 8th, the day after I was officially replaced at CBS News.  Under the headline, “Crunching the Numbers During Ross’ Reign,” it purports to assess my performance record at The Early Show through Nielsen research.

My corrections are now posted  on ICorrect, side by side the original article, with one exception: I couldn’t upload the beautiful charts I’ve posted here.

Although complete Nielsen ratings are easily available in their own on-line archives, TVNewser allowed for the publication of just 14  cherry-picked weeks out of my full 23 weeks. With what can only be described as reckless disregard for the truth, they inaccurately reported I had provided only  a slight increase of 64,000 total viewers (age 2 and older.)  The full and accurate  Nielsen records actually show an audience  growth of  195,000 Early Show viewers ages 25-54, the key demographic that determines ad rates. What’s more:  during this news cycle, Nielsen reported a (A25-54)  viewer decline for every other daily network news broadcast (see table 1.)  At the same network, the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, which shared the same news resources with The Early Show, showed a decline of 340,000 viewers (A25-54) during the same 23 weeks.

CRUNCHING ROSS’ REAL NUMBERS FOR REAL MORNING MEN

The Early Show ratings among male viewers aged 25-54 showed the most dramatic spike of all, surpassing Good Morning America within 15 weeks (see table 2.)  For the relatively quiet news week of January 14th, CBS’  Early Show had a surprising viewership (A25-54) of 1,864,000, an audience size never again achieved by The Early Show, even during the historic news cycles of Barack Obama’s election and inauguration.

If you’re not a numbers cruncher, the following comparison may help.  For the week of March 7, 2011, when the morning shows saw their Nielsen numbers soar on the news Friday of the Japanese earthquake:

  • A25-54 viewers: NBC: 2,700,000/ ABC:  1,960,000/  CBS: 1,170,000

For the current quarter, Q1 2011, here are the Nielsen results:

  • A25-54 viewers: NBC: 2,600,000 / ABC: 1,860,000 / CBS: 1,200,000

When you start to defend yourself, there’s always the concern that you’re bringing more attention to the item(s) you would like to see go away.  But that’s the hitch of the internet where the lies and smears,  like cockroaches,  will outlive us all.

I’m not sure when it became okay to stand by and watch in silence.  It’s time to stand up against the lies, the sexists, the anonymouses who continue to attack and cyberstalk the Paul Tilleys and so many more.

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