Moonves Takes Heat on ’60 Minutes’ Report

Jan 18, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Viacom co-President and co-Chief Operating Officer and CBS Chairman Leslie Moonves defended his decision to keep CBS News President Andrew Heyward on the job, despite the fact that three CBS News employees were asked to resign and one was fired. CBS requested the three resignations and terminated the fourth employee after the release of an external report critiquing a Sept. 8 “60 Minutes Wednesday” story that used questionable documents concerning President George W. Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard.

“If you read the report, Andrew asked the right questions,” Mr. Moonves said of Mr. Heyward’s actions concerning the story. “He was let down by his people. I have total confidence in Andrew.”

Mr. Moonves also said the three employees asked to leave-Betsy West, the senior VP in charge of CBS News’ prime-time broadcasts, “60 Minutes Wednesday” executive producer Josh Howard and his senior broadcast producer, Mary Murphy-have not yet officially resigned from the network.

“Discussions are going on,” he said.

One reporter compared Mr. Heyward to a navy captain, who would have been removed from command if his ship ran aground. He asked Mr. Moonves if the same standard shouldn’t apply to Mr. Heyward.

“CBS News is not the navy,” he said. “Andy Heyward has my support. I think he was lead down the wrong path by his people.”

Mr. Moonves said the controversy over the story and the report that followed has created an opportunity for the network, since it can evaluate its news division from top to bottom.

“It’s probably something we should have done awhile ago,” he said. “Hopefully, we can turn lemons into lemonade.”

Mr. Moonves refused to say who will replace “CBS Evening News” anchor Dan Rather, who announced in November he is stepping down after more than two decades in the job. Mr. Rather was also the on-air reporter on the Texas National Guard story. Mr. Moonves refused to talk about the possibility of naming an interim anchor.

“We have nothing to announce right now,” he said. “Everything is a work in progress.”

Mr. Moonves did not rule out the possibility of a team of anchors or presenting the news from more than one location.

“It’s very possible it might not be the voice-of-god single anchor,” he said.

Mr. Moonves declined to say if he had met with NBC’s Katie Couric, one name that has been mentioned as a possible Dan Rather replacement. He also didn’t rule out the possibility of using Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart, the host of the younger-skewing “The Daily Show,” on CBS. Both networks are owned by Viacom.

“He’s part of our company,” Mr. Moonves said.

Mr. Moonves said the fate of “60 Minutes Wednesday” has not yet been decided, but that the Texas Air National Guard story won’t be a factor when it is time to decide whether or not the show should be renewed for 2005-06.

“Come May, we look at our pilots and our schedule,” he said, noting that the news magazine may no longer fit with the network’s increasingly younger demo. He said “60 Minutes Wednesday” executive producer Jeff Fager sees “it is his job to prove to us it deserves a spot on the schedule.”

Mr. Moonves said CBS’s continued strength in the prime-time ratings, particularly the network’s win in the adult 18 to 49 demographic in the November sweeps and its dominance in the demo for the first half of the season, will drive ad sales during the Network upfronts.

“This is going to translate in May to hundreds of millions of dollars that is going to come to the CBS side,” he said.

He also said the network was “still in the discussion stages” over a “Raymond” spinoff starring Brad Garrett, and that it may not be known whether the project is a go until the May upfronts.

Newly minted CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler, who also took the stage at the press tour with Mr. Moonves, said it was “way too early to tell” if Friday night drama “Joan of Arcadia,” which is down in the ratings this season, will return next season.

“We still love the show,” she said, noting that the network is launching two marketing campaigns and is using stunt casting such as teen star Hilary Duff to help generate more viewership.