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.