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Rather Says Odds Getting Longer for Couric

Dan Rather, who last month accused broadcast networks of dumbing down and tarting up their newscasts, said he can foresee a time when media company executives retreat from evening news production.

“I think we’ll see the time when someone at the top says, ‘We can give this time back to affiliates,’” Mr. Rather said Monday in a discussion with TelevisionWeek Publisher and Editorial Director Chuck Ross at the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing convention in Washington.

Mr. Rather, who now anchors “Dan Rather Reports,” a weekly news show on Mark Cuban’s HDNet, said media executives’ focus on audience ratings and attracting certain age groups of viewers is eroding the quality of the newscasts.

“The tendency is to dumb it down and sleaze it up,” Mr. Rather said, echoing statements he made last month. Those earlier comments, made in response to a question about current “Evening News” anchor Katie Couric, started a back-and-forth with CBS CEO Les Moonves, who took issue with Mr. Rather’s remarks.

Today, Mr. Rather said his criticisms of the CBS news program didn’t include anything he wasn’t hearing from inside the CBS organization.

CBS spokesman Dana McClintock declined to comment on Mr. Rather’s statements.

Mr. Rather today said he doesn’t know whether Ms. Couric is the right person to lead “Evening News,” noting it will take more time to determine whether viewers embrace her.

“It’s been a short time,” Mr. Rather said. Asked whether he thinks Ms. Couric will work as anchor, he said, “The odds are longer now.”

Mr. Rather said any disappointment with the ratings for “Evening News” under Ms. Couric must be analyzed in context of the high expectations created by CBS executives including Mr. Moonves.

Promotion of Ms. Couric as anchor included a “listening tour” she conducted to see what viewers were interested in seeing on the nightly newscast. Mr. Rather said CBS and Ms. Couric could have secured a coup had she gone to Lebanon instead, as the conflict there between Hezbollah and Israel was escalating at the time and would have helped her bolster her reputation as a newshound.

Returning nightly broadcast news reports to traditional journalistic values will help them avoid the “clear and present danger” they face of becoming dinosaurs, Mr. Rather said.

Mr. Rather said his primary challenge at HDNet is creating news content that is as good as the high-definition picture the network sends out.

“I would like to build something that lasts in terms of integrity,” Mr. Rather said.

The television industry’s transition from standard definition to HD will eventually be seen as being as profound as its change from black-and-white to color, he said.

  • Watch exclusive video of Dan Rather at the event.

(Editor: Horowitz)

Comments (6)

Ron Palmquist:

As a Roger Mudd fan - he should have replaced Cronkite - I believe Mr. Rather is correct. Besides, Ms. Couric will be older and less bouyant.

PLScott:

Anyone interested in this topic should spend a few nights with the remote, surfing back and forth between the three network newscasts. It isn't Couric - it's CBS. The CBS News editorial tone is far more pro-Bush (or at least far less critical of the Bush administration) than either ABC or NBC. This was, frankly, much to my surprise. OK - perhaps they built up expectations too far for Couric's entry into the market but those reasons have fallen by the wayside long ago. Just listen to the language used in any story involving the war or Washington politics and you'll see - or hear - what I mean. These days, that stance is distasteful and objectionable, and the ratings show it. CBS should be using their critical eye as much as anyone.

The biggest problem was picking a non-news person to host the newscast. I think viewers would be more accepting if other veteran newswomen were considered such as Greta Van Susteren or even some of the females that have appeared on the Lehrer NewsHour on PBS. Couric just doesn't cut it when it comes to proven credibility as a news reporter.

The issue isn't Couric for sure. Brian Williams has lost 40 percent more audience share than Couric since she debuted as the anchor.

It was the combination of the hype, over expectations, lack of research and the superstar status awarded Couric which demoralized her co-workers and caused problmes there.

The network news isn't going to grow again. It's as simple as people preferring to get their news on the Internet. The numbers of viewers are always the same and have an average age of about 60-years-old.

The ignorant comment above about pro-Bush is as stupid as I've heard in connetion to Couric.

Look at Fox blowing away the competition in the key 18-49 demo if you think that has any relevance.

The issue is how people consume their news now, not who's anchoring it.

All that will happen with the networks is a rearranging of who will watch what channel among the existing stations if an anchor is changed.

There's not going to be an increase of the news-watching market on network television anymore, those days are over.

Even the advertisers recognize this and look at the newscasts as a whole. They simply buy the overall demographic across all three networks, reaching all the viewers that way.

O. C. Jones:

Rather the expert that was last in the ratings during his tenure and changed hairdos more often than females.

Raghu Acharya:

I was very pleased to see Dan Rather again.He is a reporter in the tradition of Ed Morrow.I wish him many more years of marvellous reporting,going back to Vietnam era.CBS has degenerated to a "60
SECOND" soundbite,a sad commentary of things to come.

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