MEMOGATE SOURCE SAYS HE WAS DEFAMED

Bill Burkett, the man once described by Dan Rather as the "unimpeachable source" who provided the now-discredited documents regarding President Bush's National Guard service, has charged that the independent panel that investigated the Rather report destroyed his reputation. In a letter to CBS that was obtained by the online magazine Salon, Burkett wrote that the investigators, headed by former AP chief Louis Boccardi and former U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh, "exacerbated the defamation of character that CBS obviously committed when they laid the blame for the collapse of this story at my feet." He went on to maintain that when he turned the documents over to the 60 Minutes (now known as 60 Minutes Wednesday) producers, he informed them that he could not vouch for their authenticity and expected them to verify them. "CBS wanted everything that I had and then made every effort to discredit and later blame me for their own errors and failings." In a separate statement to Salon, Burkett said: "There were mistakes made by professional journalists that ... served as fodder for the destruction of my reputation." He said that CBS has ignored his letter.

BROADCASTERS TO SUE FCC OVER INDECENCY RULES

The broadcasting industry is likely to go to court as early as next month to test the enforcement of the FCC's indecency rules, the Los Angeles Times reported today (Tuesday), citing unnamed industry officials. "I think the government is more vulnerable to an indecency challenge than they've ever been before," Kurt A. Wimmer, a Washington communications lawyer, told the newspaper. The Times report said that industry lawyers are currently focusing on two "promising cases," the FCC reprimand to NBC for airing U2 singer Bono's f-word during the 2003 Golden Globes telecast and a $1.18-million fine meted out to Fox affiliates for a Married by America episode.

CHILI PALMER AKA JOHN TRAVOLTA TO TOUT CADILLACS ON TV

John Travolta had a direct hand in putting together a major product-placement deal with Cadillac for his forthcoming Get Shorty sequel, Be Cool, Advertising Age reported Monday. "I can't believe how fast this came together," Jay Spenchian, marketing director of Cadillac, told the trade publication, crediting the involvement of Travolta and F. Gary Gray, the film's director, in planning meetings with Cadillac for the quick progress. Travolta agreed to appear as his Be Cool character Chili Palmer not only in a series of TV ads, unusual in itself for a major star, but also to promote and judge an online Cadillac 5-second film contest on CadillacUnder5.com aimed at creating awareness of the brand's new V-Series' ability to accelerate from zero to 60 mph in less than five seconds. The short films are designed to convey how fast five seconds is. (It may be too late to enter. Ad Age said that preliminary finalists would be picked by Feb. 20.)

MURDOCH LAUNCHING JOINT VENTURE WITH CHINA

Rupert Murdoch, who has gone to great lengths to cultivate a close relationship with the Chinese government, is about to launch a joint venture with China Central Television to produce up to 300 hours of programming a year, according to the Hong Kong daily, the South China Morning Post. It would represent the first such deal ever struck between an American and a Chinese media company, the newspaper indicated. The programs would be produced by the National Geographic Channel, in which Murdoch's News Corp holds a 50-percent stake (the National Geographic magazine and NBC each holds a 25-percent stake in it), according to the newspaper. A spokesman for the channel said, "We cannot comment on the structure of the potential partnership nor the timetable for formalizing it." Murdoch has been criticized in the past for pulling the BBC World Service from his Hong Kong-based Star satellite service after the Chinese objected to some of its news reports and refusing to publish a critical book about China by Chris Patten, the former British governor of Hong Kong.

ROCK TO BE PAID SCALE FOR HOSTING OSCARS

Chris Rock will receive only union scale for hosting the Oscar telecast, syndicated columnist Liz Smith reported today (Tuesday), noting that all the other Oscar hosts before him were likewise paid only scale. "It's mostly for the exposure and the honor of it," Smith observed. She also noted that Rock and the presenters do receive a lavish "gift bag" for their services. This year's is worth an estimated $30,000, she said.

PRESIDENTS DAY REBOUND AT BOX OFFICE

Presidents Day, which is usually only a so-so four-day holiday at the box office, turned out to be an impressive one for the two top contenders. Sony's Hitch took in an outstanding $36.5 million over the four days, to keep it at No. 1 for the second week in a row and bring its gross to $94.8 million. Close behind in second place was Warner's Constantine, which recorded $34.6 million in ticket sales over the four days, the best opening ever for an R-rated movie over a four-day holiday. Two debuting family films followed, with 20th Century Fox's Because of Winn-Dixie nabbing third place with $13.2 million and New Line Cinema's Son of the Mask taking fourth with $10.1 million. Sony's Are We There Yet? continued to travel well, adding another $8 million to its total, which now stands at $71.1 million. Warner's Oscar contender Million Dollar Baby took sixth place with $7.8 million. The overall box office was up 14 percent from last year's Presidents Day holiday.

DISNEY SET TO DOWNSIZE MIRAMAX

Under Disney's plans to reorganize Miramax following the expected departure of its co-chairmen, Bob and Harvey Weinstein, the staff of the subsidiary will be cut to 50 (it once numbered 500) with an annual production, acquisition and marketing budget of $300 million, down from $700 million, the Los Angeles Times reported today (Tuesday), citing unnamed Disney sources. The result, the newspaper said, will be a Miramax subsidiary shaped "into a financially restrained subsidiary more in sync with specialty units owned by other media conglomerates." The change appeared to be welcomed by at least one industry analyst, Harold Vogel, who told the Times: "Miramax became another big-spending subsidiary of Disney, which they don't need. ... The Miramax style drifted from its original roots as an indie hotshot that made low-budget, offbeat films which supplemented Disney's mainstream lineup."

SIDEWAYS BOOSTS SALES OF PINOT NOIR

Talk about "organic" product placement! Pinot noir, a red wine loved by the lead character in the critically acclaimed Sideways, has experienced a 16-percent jump in national sales since the movie was released, according to Nielsen research, which cited supermarket, drug and liquor store sales data. It said that its sales leaped 33 percent in California. The Sideways character, however, refers to another varietal, merlot, with a four-letter invective. Nevertheless, sales of merlot, the leading red table wine in the U.S., climbed 3 percent, according to Nielsen.

SHREK PROPAGANDA? NONSENSE, SAYS TORONTO FILM PROF

Noting that the animated feature Shrek 2 has been attacked on the one hand by conservative family-values groups for presenting "subtle" messages concerning cross-dressing and transgender acceptance and on the other hand by transgender advocates who object to being parodied, a University of Toronto professor notes that the scenes are aimed at parents and go way above the heads of the kids. "If the kids don't get it, it doesn't really matter," film studies professor Charles Keil told the Canadian Press. Keil's comments came after the Traditional Values Coalition issued a warning to parents that while the movie "is billed as harmless entertainment," it actually "contains subtle sexual messages" directed at kids. Keil replied that the overall message of the Shrek movies is tolerance and that the group's "argument that borders on the paranoid is really misconstruing the general aim of this entertainment."

VERIZON AND SBC TO LAUNCH SUPER HIGH-SPEED INTERNET

Hoping to speed up the delivery of movies to homes over the Internet, Verizon and SBC Communications are quickly rolling out fiber-optic lines in select neighborhoods of Texas, Florida and California and plan to switch them on by summer, Home Media Retailing magazine reported Monday. "We'll have hundreds of channels ... and hundreds of VOD titles," Sharon Cohen-Hagar, a Verizon spokeswoman, told the trade publication but declined to provide more detailed information about the company's plans.

NEW JERSEY ACCUSES BLOCKBUSTER OF FRAUD

New Jersey has accused Blockbuster of perpetrating a fraud on its customers with its "no late fees" policy, saying that the video renter does not inform them of hidden charges. Under Blockbuster's policy, if customers do not return a video within one week after renting it, their credit card is charged the cost of buying the movie. Renters are then given one month in which to return the movie for a refund, less a $1.25 restocking fee. New Jersey Attorney General Peter C. Harvey said in a statement that customers are being ambushed by Blockbuster with the hidden charges. A spokesman for the company said that the customers are phoned after the one-week grace period and informed that they have been charged for the video. If they wish to return it for a refund and tell the customer representative that they were not aware of the restocking fee, it is waived the first time, the spokesman said.