A busy news day for the nets

NBC fills Russert D.C. post, Novak stricken and CBS sets convention plans

It was a busy Monday at the intersection of TV and politics.

The day began with the announcement that NBC News senior vp Mark Whitaker will take over duties as the network's Washington bureau chief in the post held by Tim Russert, who died in June.

Hours later, veteran conservative political commentator Robert Novak issued a statement revealing that he is being treated for a brain tumor and will suspend his journalistic duties.

And soon after that, CBS News became the first network unit to announce its coverage plans for the Republican and Democratic conventions.

CBS News will provide an hour of coverage on three of the four nights of each of the party nominating conventions, with plans to skip the opening nights. All the broadcast networks have gone back and forth with convention organizers in terms of how much coverage they would give. In recent years, the broadcast nets have carved out an hour a night, beginning with the second day of the convention.

That means the Democratic convention in Denver will have an hour of coverage from 10-11 p.m. Aug. 26-28. Barack Obama's acceptance speech will be in that 10 p.m. window on the final night.

The next week, CBS will televise an hour of Republican coverage from St. Paul, Minn., on Sept. 2-4, including John McCain's acceptance speech at 10 p.m. Sept. 4.

"CBS Evening News" anchor Katie Couric will anchor the coverage, assisted by "Face the Nation" moderator Bob Schieffer and political analyst Jeff Greenfield. Harry Smith will cover for "The Early Show" in Denver, and Maggie Rodriguez will do likewise in St. Paul.

News of Novak's diagnosis came in a statement released by his publisher, Eagle Publishing. Novak said he will begin treatment at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

"I will be suspending my journalistic work for an indefinite but, God willing, not too lengthy period," the statement said.

The editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report was a longtime co-host of CNN's "Crossfire" and after leaving that network began to work as a contributor at Fox News Channel. Novak last appeared on Fox News on July 23 on "Fox & Friends."

At NBC, Whitaker, who had been No. 2 to NBC News president Steve Capus, will continue to report to Capus and remain a senior vp when he takes over for Russert.

"Mark's got all of the components that will assure his success: a commitment to journalistic integrity, political savvy, a keen eye for the future and a management style that is inclusive and fair," Capus said. There was no word on who would take Whitaker's job in New York.

The chief job will include management of the D.C. bureau plus oversight of "Meet the Press" and election and political coverage. NBC News said Whitaker will work closely with political director Chuck Todd as well as Russert's deputies, Wendy Wilkinson and Brady Daniels. Whitaker was the editor of Newsweek from 1998-2006.

"I recognize how important it was to NBC. Tim was an incredible loss and this bureau is incredibly important to NBC, to everything we do on the network," said Whitaker, who already was overseeing political and election coverage from New York.

The other part of Russert's job, moderator of "Meet the Press," won't be filled permanently until after the November election. Tom Brokaw has been the moderator in the interim. (partialdiff)