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The Insider

May 28, 2001  •  Post A Comment

ABC News is losing its religion (reporter)
There was much rejoicing among ABC News brass seven years ago when they convinced Dallas-based Peggy Wehmeyer to sign off from WFAA-TV, where she had covered religion for more than a decade, and become ABC News’ designated religion correspondent-a position no other network had. Ms. Wehmeyer’s pieces for “World News Tonight” and “20/20” have seemed fewer and farther between to the not-so-casual observer, so it came as no surprise last week that the network and the correspondent have agreed to close the book on the noble experiment come October.
The Voter News Service party line
Though it sometimes feels as if the never-ending presidential election was decided only yesterday, the Voter News Service is forging ahead with its plans to correct the problems that resulted in inaccurate information being given to the member news organizations that fund it. VNS Director Ted Savaglio is collecting prices and specs for computer hardware and software that can guard against a repeat of the election night embarrassments that led to multiple miscalls and retractions of the count in Florida. Meanwhile, some members of the board, on which statisticians have been replaced by upper management types from the member organizations, say there seems to be less politics involved with the discussions about other procedural changes that need to be made. When the time comes to relaunch and rehabilitate VNS-which was not allowed to speak for itself during the months it was under fire from press, politicians and the public-the Insider intends to vote early and often for making the whole operation more open.
Covering the Yankees bases
Has anyone else noticed that since the start of the baseball season, CBS News’ “60 Minutes” and “60 Minutes II” are 3-for-2, as in three Yankees-oriented stories in two months? “60 Minutes” did segments in April on pinstriped pitcher Roger Clemens and on-again-off-again outfielder Darryl Strawberry. In May, “60 Minutes II” profiled popular Yankees manager Joe Torre. “There’s certainly no coordinated effort to promote the Yankees,” said a CBS News spokesman, who noted that the Strawberry profile grew out of a documentary being produced about the former sports star and was aired when he made national headlines for disappearing from his drug rehab clinic.
If we didn’t tell you, who would?
CNN doesn’t need to have a bureau in “Pasadena” to have the soap-operatic happenings covered. In addition to writer Mike White, the quartet of executive producers on Fox’s glossy fall murder-mystery soap from Columbia TriStar Television and Brillstein-Grey includes Brad Grey, pilot director Diane Keaton and Bill Robinson. Mr. Robinson is president of Ms. Keaton’s Blue Relief production company and the author of “It’s All Your Fault,” the recently published guide to “Everything the Hollywood Assistant Needs to Know About Breaking Into the Movie Business.” More to the point of this item, Mr. Robinson is the brother of Christa Robinson, CNN’s New York-based vice president of public relations.
And a magnum for Mr. Jeffords?
It was time to break out the champagne after CNN’s ”Lou Dobbs Moneyline” beat CNBC’s “Business Center” for the hour in household ratings (by a tenth of a point), total viewers (by 61,000) and the all-important adults 25 to 54 demo (by 16,000 viewers) on May 23. Wags were moved to joke that it took a week and a half of relentless promotion and revelations about Mr. Dobbs’ paid speaking engagements and his $1,000 contribution to the Bush-Cheney campaign (a donation made before he scaled back his involvement in Space.com and returned to CNN and “Moneyline”). “We can’t compete with CNN when it’s plane-crash time,” conceded a CNBC spokeswoman, alluding to the big news story that had buoyed ratings for CNN all day on May 23-the decision of Vermont Sen. James Jeffords to turn independent and tip the balance of power in the Senate from Republicans to Democrats.
In another sign of the changing times at CNN, longtimer David Bernkopf, the vice president for news planning, is leaving the Atlanta-based news organization. He had reported to news-gathering President Eason Jordan.
The final word
High on the list of things to do for Freedom Broadcasting President Alan Bell at the CBS affiliates convention in Las Vegas is exchanging one-liners with Mel Karmazin, the Viacom president and chief operating officer, whom faithful readers know the Insider finds exceedingly entertaining. “You think I’m kidding,” Mr. Bell said. “I’m the guy who said in print that the difference between [former CBS owner Larry] Tisch and Karmazin is that Tisch is greedy and stupid and Karmazin is greedy and smart-one of my better lines, I might add.” Speaking of greatest hits, The Insider is thinking that since CBS is the only network hosting a traditional affiliates bash, it would be the perfect occasion for Mr. Karmazin to utter one of his favorite rhetorical questions. To wit: “Don’t we suck less than the other guys?”