Moonves fires back at Couric critics

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NEW YORK -- CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves hit back at critics of "CBS Evening News With Katie Couric," including former anchor Dan Rather, saying it is going to take time for his $15 million-a-year investment to show results.

Moonves, who spoke Tuesday at a Newhouse School of Public Communications forum with New Yorker writer Ken Auletta, denied rumors that CBS News will head in a different direction after the 2008 election.

"The stories of us throwing in the towel ... are not true," Moonves said. He said he was proud of the show and that he continues to have great faith in Couric. Couric's ratings have fallen to historic lows in the closely watched evening news ratings race during the past several weeks.

He said Couric should be given a break because she has been at CBS News for only nine months; it took Tom Brokaw years before he reached the top of the ratings for "NBC Nightly News."

Moonves acknowledged that CBS had failed in its attempts to rebrand the show for a younger audience and said there were are "a number of people who don't want their news from a woman."

He also blew off criticism from Rather, who said Monday on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" that he felt the newscast wasn't going in the right direction.

"He (Rather) also said 'tarted up,' t-a-r-t, which I think is a sexist quote," Moonves said.

In an appearance on Fox News Channel's "Your World," Rather said he wasn't being sexist and was critical of Moonves' attempts at the news. "It doesn't have to do with Katie, it doesn't have to do with gender. It has to do with corporate leadership," the former CBS anchor said.

Moonves declined to say much about the controversy surrounding fired radio star Don Imus, noting that because of possible litigation he was restricted from speaking in detail. He also noted that Martin Garbus, Imus' lawyer, also was in the room. But Moonves confirmed there was no chance that he would rehire Imus, who has threatened legal action over his termination.

He said CBS was staying out of the controversy about whether the merger between XM and Sirius should be approved, pointing out that he didn't think satellite radio has affected CBS' terrestrial radio business. He noted that the big potential deals with MSOs over retransmission consent were coming up and indicated he had no problem with pulling the CBS signal from cable companies unwilling to pay.

A federal court's decision over the FCC's attempts to regulate decency over the airwaves pleased Moonves, who said it was clear the FCC had overstepped its bounds.

He said that CBS has done 25 new-media partnership deals in the past 60 days and said that area is a focus of the company going forward -- but that broadcast TV is king for the foreseeable future.

As for the "Jericho" fans' campaign to return their favorite show to the air after last month's cancellation, color Moonves impressed. "I've never seen a campaign like that," he said. "It's truly astonishing."
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