CARLISLE, Pa -- CBS News anchor Dan Rather says CNN i primarily an "electronic wire service" for an elite audience that provides too little perspective for breaking news.
Mr. Rather said all national TV news broadcasts -- including his "CBS Evening News" -- are "not very good as far as depth is concerned." But he contended that the major over-the-air TV broadcasts do a better job of filling in the background than does CNN.
"Among broadcasters, I think, Cable News is lagging at the moment in terms of analysis and background, context and perspective on stories," Mr. Rather remarked as a lecture on press coverage at the Army War College on Monday. A lieutenant colonel in the audience had asked Mr. Rather to assess the impact of CNN's global growth.
Mr. Rather said another "weakness" of CNN is that "it is primarily for the elite" who are willing to pay from $35 to $70 a month for cable service.
Abroad, CNN is even more a service for the elite, Mr. Rather went on. "In the main, CNN is seen in first-class hotels, in foreign ministries, and in certain places in presidential or imperial palaces. That is primarily what they do. You could add defense ministries to that. Over-the-air broadcasters, whether in America abroad, have a much wider, broader reach."
"We have not won major awards for being thin on reporting," responded CNN vice president Ed Turner. "When you only do 22 minutes a day instead of 24 hours, you might not recognize in-depth when you see it."
CNN President Tom Johnson said he considered Mr. Rather a friend, but "I disagree with his assessment. . . . In our entire approach to the news we tried to be very timely, very accurate and very complete."
Later, Mr. Johnson added: "CNN is really a network designed for the people; we wish everybody had cable."
In his War College appearance, Mr. Rather said CNN's major strength is its ability to get the news on the air quickly. "They don't always get to the story faster than an over-the-air broadcaster, but they often do, and increasingly," he said.
Rather and a group of 20 Washington-based military correspondents were invited to the Army War College to discuss press-military relations in the aftermath of the Persian Gulf war. An Army press officer said the session was on the record.