Conservatives have complained for years that there are too many liberals in the mainstream media. Starting Monday, though, they’ll have at least one of their own at CBS News.
Jeff Ballabon, an Orthodox Jew and political and communications consultant whom The Forward called "the architect of Bush’s 2004 re-election effort in the Orthodox community," is the new senior vice president for communications at CBS News. He starts Monday and, according to a CBS press release, will be in charge of "all media relations and public affairs for CBS News, including strategy and planning, day-to-day publicity, internal and external communications" and coordination with the CBS News website.
"I think I’ve tried to spend my life doing thing that were unexpected and fun," Ballabon told JTA on Thursday, and he’s excited that he’ll be part of "one of the most influential media organizations in the world."
Ballabon said CBS reached out to him and it was an "irresistible offer" to "help CBS News regain its standing as the Tiffany news network." CBS, he pointed out, had a great election season, with Katie Couric’s interview of Sarah Palin being the most talked-about interview of the year and "60 Minutes" getting the first post-election sit-down with Barack Obama.
The move isn’t entirely out of character for the 46-year-old Ballabon, who held similar communications jobs with Court TV from 1995-98, and Channel One News and Primedia for six years after that, before opening his consulting firm, the Ballabon Group. With the move to CBS, he will be shutting down the business and the firm’s ongoing projects have been transferred to "the right hands."
Ballabon says he doesn’t expect to have any problems fitting in at CBS, no matter what his co-workers political views may be, because he’s always worked well with Democrats and Republicans.
"The key to success is the ability to be empathetic with a diversity of viewpoints," he said, adding that his background as an Orthodox Jew has sometimes made him feel like "somewhat of an outsider in society" and thus he never thinks that he should be imposing his viewpoint on others.
And he quips that "with the current political environment, the mainstream media actually seemed like the more moderate atmosphere."
[UPDATE: Ballabon’s self characterization doesn’t fly with Ira Forman of the National Jewish Democratic Council. Forman tells Capital J that during one forum the two participated in, Ballabon said that Democrats in Washington are bad and Republicans in Washington are good. (CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post used the word "evil," but Forman called and said "bad" was the word.)]
Over the years, CBS has received a lot of criticism from conservatives, none more vehement than after Dan Rather’s 2004 story questioning President George W. Bush’s National Guard service. In assembling an independent panel to look into the story, which found that the documents used in the story could not be proved authentic and that there was a breakdown of standards but no evidence of liberal bias, CBS executives apparently was aiming to quell conservative criticism with their choices . Discovery in Rather’s lawsuit against the network has found a document which indicates that Richard Thornburgh, attorney general during President George H.W. Bush’s administration, was selected for the panel after it was feared that Republican Sen. Warren Rudman would not "mollify the right."
Below is the full CBS press release announcing Ballabon’s hire:
JEFF BALLABON NAMED SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, COMMUNICATIONS,
Jeff Ballabon has been named Senior Vice President, Communications, CBS News, it was announced today by Sean McManus, President, CBS News and Sports, and Gil Schwartz, Executive Vice President, Corporate Communications, CBS Corporation. He will begin February 23.
In this position, Ballabon will oversee all media relations and public affairs for CBS News, including strategy and planning, day-to-day publicity, internal and external communications, and coordination with CBS Interactive regarding CBSNews.com.
"Jeff is a proven communications executive who appreciates that success in the news business demands uncompromising integrity and credibility combined with reach, accessibility and customization." said McManus. "We are excited that Jeff is coming on board at a time when CBS News increasingly is being recognized for excellence."
"Jeff brings an extraordinary breadth and diversity of experience to CBS News and I am delighted that he will be joining our communications team," said Schwartz. "He is a substantive and creative thinker who has successfully managed complex issues in journalism and public policy, and implicitly understands trends across platforms in both traditional and new media."
Previously, Ballabon served as Vice President, Public Policy for Primedia Inc. (2001-2004), where he oversaw public affairs and government relations for all Primedia companies, and was a member of that company’s corporate communications and branding team. He also was Executive Vice President at Primedia Television and at Films Media Group, as well as Channel One News, where he managed media and government relations and crisis communications (1998-2004).
Prior to his Primedia position, Ballabon was Senior Vice President, Network Affairs for Court TV (1995-1998) where he managed the network’s communications, public relations and government relations, including the issue of "Cameras in the Courtrooms." At Court TV, during a period of exceptionally high-profile trials, including the O.J. Simpson, Menendez brothers, and "Boston Nanny" murder trials, he led the network’s groundbreaking efforts to increase television access to court proceedings in America and abroad. Also while at Court TV, Ballabon was a key figure in negotiating a federal rule permitting the closed-circuit televising of the Timothy McVeigh ("Oklahoma City Bomber") murder trial to survivors of the crime and to victims’ families.
Before Court TV, he worked as an attorney in private practice and on Capitol Hill, where he was legislative counsel to U.S. Senator John C. Danforth (R-MO) and a professional staffer on the Senate Commerce Committee.
Ballabon has appeared in national and international media and participated in international forums as an expert on democratic ideals, free press, journalistic ethics and reporting on government. Ballabon left Primedia to found Ballabon Group, a public-affairs consultancy, where he continued to serve Primedia, Channel One News and numerous other media and business clients and causes. He also served as the New York City affiliate of The Livingston Group, a major Washington, D.C. government relations firm. In those roles, he has managed sensitive and sophisticated image, reputation, policy and issue campaigns. Ballabon has advised presidential candidates and campaigns, members of the U.S. Congress, corporations, charitable organizations and international non-governmental organizations.
He has been active in a number of media and public-policy organizations, including as a member of the Cable Television Public Affairs Association’s board of directors, co-chair of the Federalist Society’s Media Law Subcommittee, a member of the Magazine Publishers of America’s Government Affairs Council and a member of the New York Bar Media Law Committee.
*Ballabon holds a degree in English Literature from Yeshiva University and a J.D. from Yale Law School. A native New Yorker, he lives on Long Island with his wife and their five children.