Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Latest Victim of Rathergate

Well, it took nearly a year, but CBS News president Andy Heyward has been replaced:

The chairman of CBS, Leslie Moonves, announced today that he was replacing the longtime president of CBS News, Andrew Heyward, with the longtime president of the network's sports division, Sean McManus.

In succeeding Mr. Heyward, whose contract expires at the end of the year, Mr. McManus inherits a once-vaunted news division - symbolized by Edward R. Murrow, whose legacy is celebrated in the current George Clooney movie "Good Night, and Good Luck" - that is now reeling on several fronts.

Last fall, the news division was upended by the fallout from a report, first broadcast on the weeknight edition of "60 Minutes," that purported to present new details about the Vietnam-era National Guard service of President Bush but was later discredited after the network acknowledged it could not vouch for the documents on which it was based.

Mr. Heyward - who, at least initially, fiercely defended the report and the documents, despite fundamental questions raised immediately about their authenticity - managed to hold on to his job in the months afterward. But few others involved in the production of the report did. Dan Rather, the correspondent on the report and the anchor of the "CBS Evening News" for nearly a quarter century, stepped down as anchor in the spring, a year earlier than he had planned.

While Mr. Heyward, president of CBS News for nearly a decade, survived that period, he has failed, in recent months, to meet Mr. Moonves's mandate of developing a successor to the broadcast led by Mr. Rather and [Bob] Schieffer.

It's not surprising that Heyward had to go. The CBS Evening News had been in last place in TV news ratings for the better part of the decade, and Rathergate was just the most public example of just how stale and out-of-touch the news division's corporate culture had become.

Heyward also failed to understand that the old journalistic model that CBS News was based on, was no longer valid in the age of the Net. He did try --witness CBS News' Public Eye feature on its website -- but he was handicapped by his failure to appreciate the full consequences of public participation.

Can CBS News rebound? Let's just say that, with Heyward gone, the Old Guard of the network's Legacy Media heirs are no longer in charge. It's as close to a fresh start as the network's likely to get. Here's hoping they make the most of it.