Rather, Moonves in combat mode

CBS CEO defends Couric hire

CBS Corp. chief exec Leslie Moonves continues to find himself on the defensive for hiring megabucks anchor Katie Couric. But his response has been consistent: Give it time.

“She’s been on the air for nine months,” he said Tuesday during a New York event sponsored by the Newhouse School of Communication. “Let’s give her a break.”

Still, as Couric’s ratings have plummeted, critics have criticized the network for relying too much on features and gimmicks early in her tenure. These days, most of those elements are gone, and “CBS Evening News” acts more like its competitors.

But that hasn’t silenced the attacks — now most notably, from the man who sat more than 20 years in that chair, and had a prickly relationship with the network chieftain.

Dan Rather, who departed “CBS Evening News” in 2005 and the Eye all together a year later, has stepped up his criticism of his former employer this week, first on MSNBC and then Tuesday on Fox News Channel.

The latest skirmish began on Monday when Rather told MSNBC host Joe Scarborough that CBS had hurt the “Evening News” by “dumbing it down and tarting it up.” Moonves shot back at the Newhouse forum, arguing that Rather’s “tart” line was a “sexist quote.”

By Tuesday afternoon, Rather, speaking to Fox News Channel’s “Your World,” saved most of his barbs for Moonves, accusing him of trying to “change the subject.” The real issue, he said, is not with Couric, but with “the leadership at the very top of CBS.”

“Les Moonves knows about entertainment,” said Rather, who now produces news programming for HDNet. “But he doesn’t know about news.”

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