‘Tarting Up’ Hasn’t a Thing to Do With Couric

Lesson #1 is, when you have no real defense, then change the basis of
the argument. That’s what Leslie Moonves, the president (and
tarter-in-chief) of CBS, did in response to a Dan Rather rant, but what
can you expect of a guy named Leslie?

Lesson #1 is, when you have no real defense, then change the basis of
the argument. That’s what Leslie Moonves, the president (and
tarter-in-chief) of CBS, did in response to a Dan Rather rant, but what
can you expect of a guy named Leslie?
Tom Shales at the Washington Post aired the dirty laundry, commenting

sparked the controversy during a radio appearance Monday morning when
he said CBS executives have attempted over the past year to lure
viewers to the “CBS Evening News” — which has plummeted in the ratings
— by “dumbing it down and tarting it up.” He said they have tried to
graft the ” ‘Today’ show ethos” onto the program, which just happens
now to be anchored by former “Today” star Katie Couric.

was swift if not bright. Leslie Moonves, CBS corporate chief, shot back
yesterday with an alleged defense of Couric that, in standard executive
fashion, was really a defense of Moonves, the man who created the
broadcast for Couric in the first place. He seized on the word
“tarting” and called Rather’s remark “sexist” — an attempt by Moonves
to blur the issue.

All of which would be easy to shrug off as just an old hand in the CBS
anchor position gritting his teeth over being replaced by a
relentlessly chirpy female. Except that Rather is dead right and CBS isn’t the only offender.
As to Moonves getting all bent out of shape over ‘tarting,’ he ought
to look up the word and learn that it doesn’t necessarily lean in the
direction of women. The first definition is “decorate in a cheap and flashy way.” Touche’.
Certainly CBS has done just that in a desperate lunge to get up off
the floor of the ratings. As any drunk can tell you, lunging is not a
good way to get up off a floor.

Rather — who
anchored CBS’s evening newscast for nearly a quarter-century — thinks
the failure of the “CBS Evening News With Katie Couric” isn’t really
Couric’s fault but Moonves’s. The CBS chief decided that to get younger
viewers to watch the news, it has to be more fun, more upbeat, more
entertaining. In other words: The news had to stop being the news.

news had to start being the “Today” show. Or something very much like
it. And so when Couric signed on nine months ago, the program was
filled with squishy gimmicks, such as an alleged vox populi kind of
segment in which people opined on issues of the day.

Moonves and his 90-day-wonder, Rick Kaplan, who’s charged with lunge
lessons or being out of a job, are perhaps no more disinterested
parties than Rather.

But early on, the fight is between a Dan, a Leslie and a Rickey and I gotta put my money on Dan.

did the operation of a blow-dryer or a major-league smile become some
kind of requisite for putting on the nightly news? What happened
between edgy Murrow, comfortable Cronkite and perky Couric? TV News
went to hell is what happened.
Ratings rather than believability became the Holy Grail of newscasting
and it’s such a blurry, dreary, long-term slide downhill from the days
of Ed Murrow that I’m not sure anyone knows where to head in to the
A thousand deadheads across the country are wired to Nielsen and you
and I are stuck with what happens to be on their set while they pick
their teeth and chug Blue Ribbon. Everyone has gone off chasing after
the 18-30 year old set and they don’t give a rat’s ass about news.
Kaplan hasn’t a clue, mostly because he never stopped long enough to
think about what news is–information about recent and important events.

said many female colleagues who had worked with Rather were “livid,
just livid,” about the “tarting it up” remark. Meanwhile, a longtime
Rather supporter who asked not to be identified because he still works
in broadcast news said: “Rick Kaplan should worry less about Dan Rather
and more about the fact that the ratings have actually declined since
he took over the broadcast.”

Rick Kaplan has been everywhere. President of CNN, Senior
Vice-President of ABC News, President of MSNBC and now executive
producer of the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric. Somehow, that doesn’t sound like a step up.
Kaplan, the guy who’s tarring and feathering Dan Rather (who lost
his job for not being able to prove what is well known about George
Bush’s military past) was in the driver’s seat at ABC’s Prime Time Live
in 1991, when they aired an expose against the Food Lion supermarket
chain using undercover producers who falsified their resumes and staged

In 1998 CNN President Kaplan oversaw
production of the first documentary for the new show NewsStand. The
documentary called “Tailwind,” narrated by journalist Peter Arnett,
alleged that during the Vietnam War the United States had used poison
gas against women and children in Laos. This report was later
discredited. (Wikipedia)

Shales, in the Washington Post, continues,

ensuing controversy not only spurred criticism of Rather, but also
virtually split the CBS News division in two, with some employees
thinking Rather should have done more to save the careers of producers
who were fired under orders from the top. Moonves and Rather had never
liked each other, and Moonves took the opportunity to essentially force
out Rather. Moonves never could have turned the “CBS Evening News” into
the “CBS Candy News” with Rather in the anchor chair — and while
Rather held the title of managing editor.

Even critics of Rather
would have to admit he has always stood, firmly and stubbornly, for
hard news over fluff and for integrity in the newsroom.

Quoting Dan Rather,

have enormous life-or-death issues and challenges facing us in this
country and the world today. Everything from the dismantling of civil
rights enforcement within the Justice Department to the war in Iraq to
news of secret prisons in Europe and, of course, the next presidential

“And yet, for some reason, Paris Hilton is the big
story on newscast after newscast. She is inescapable. Putting Paris
Hilton on the front page is ridiculous, and it is a mistake to load up
a newscast with soft features. The corporate leadership of CBS doesn’t
even know what hard news is supposed to be — not now, and not in the
last years that I was the anchor of the broadcast. They know about
entertainment, not news, and about kissing up to politicians in
Washington who can do them some good from a regulatory standpoint and
help improve their profit picture.”

To which Walter Cronkite would say, “That’s the way it is” and Ed Murrow, “Good night and good luck.”
Thank you Dan Rather.
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