Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Dan Rather, CBS chief in feud over news, Couric
POSTED: 9:40 a.m. EDT, June 13, 2007

NEW YORK (AP) -- Former CBS news anchor Dan Rather escalated a feud with the network Tuesday, saying CBS Corp. Chief Executive Leslie Moonves "doesn't know about news."

Moonves had said earlier Rather's remarks that CBS was "tarting" up its newscast with Katie Couric, Rather's successor, were "sexist."

The spat started Monday when Rather, speaking by phone on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" program with Joe Scarborough, said CBS had made the mistake of taking the evening news broadcast and "dumbing it down, tarting it up," and playing up topics such as celebrities over war coverage.

While referring to Couric as a "nice person," Rather said "the mistake was to try to bring the 'Today' show ethos to the 'Evening News,' and to dumb it down, tart it up in hopes of attracting a younger audience."

Moonves, speaking at an event in New York Tuesday morning sponsored by the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, called the remarks "sexist" and said he was surprised at the amount of negative coverage Couric was receiving.

"She's been on the air for nine months," Moonves said. "Let's give her a break."

Couric started strong but has settled into a distant third in the evening news ratings race. Last month her "CBS Evening News" set a record for its least-watched broadcast for at least two decades, then broke it the very next week.

Later Tuesday, Rather said during an appearance on Fox News Channel's "Your World with Neil Cavuto" program that he didn't regret making his earlier remarks, but insisted he was referring to CBS's management of the newscast, not to Couric personally.

"It doesn't have to do with Katie, it doesn't have to do with gender," Rather said. "It has to do with the corporate leadership. ... Les Moonves knows about entertainment, but he doesn't know about news."

Rather left as "CBS Evening News" anchor in March 2005 and cut ties to the network a year later. He continued to be dogged by controversy surrounding his role in a discredited story about President Bush's Vietnam-era military service.

CBS's corporate office referred questions about Rather's latest remarks to Rick Kaplan, the executive producer of "CBS Evening News," who said: "We are very much a hard news program."

"I wish Dan was watching more closely," Kaplan said, adding: "A lot of people here are very disappointed with him. ... They went through some very dark days with Dan, and they don't like hearing that they're not doing the news. They damn well are."

Moonves said earlier that he "absolutely" had confidence in Couric and the direction that "CBS Evening News" was taking, saying it was imperative to reach younger audiences. Evening news broadcasts couldn't continue to have audiences that are mainly over 60, Moonves said, otherwise "the evening news will die."

Meanwhile, Moonves said the network's decision last week to reinstate a canceled show called "Jericho" following an outpouring of viewer e-mails and other protests spoke to the growing influence of the Internet on broadcasters.

"It was a campaign that couldn't be ignored," Moonves said of the mobilization of "Jericho" fans, saying it was "astonishing and well-organized."

As part of the campaign, disgruntled viewers delivered thousands of pounds of peanuts to CBS's corporate offices, a reference to a scene in the season finale where a character replies, "Nuts!" to a demand that the town in Kansas, which had been isolated by a nuclear attack, surrender.