RATHER DEPARTS WITH "COURAGE"
Dan Rather bade farewell to his CBS Evening News audience Wednesday by invoking the sign-off that had brought him no end of ridicule early on in his career as a network anchor: "Courage." As if he were addressing his audience from a pulpit, he said that he wanted to return to the word "in a different way." He then wished courage to "a nation still nursing a broken heart for what happened here in 2001 ... to our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines in dangerous places, to those who have endured the tsunami and to all who have suffered natural disasters ... to the oppressed and to those [who] struggle in financial hardship or in failing health, to my fellow journalists in places where reporting the truth means risking all." The odd sermon did little to restore Rather's faded repute. "Mr. Rather delivered one last act of on-air brinkmanship - a dance along the fine line between reporting and posturing," wrote TV critic Alessandra Stanley in the New York Times. Adam Buckman in the New York Post commented: "This speech was vintage Rather, a man who stubbornly marches to the beat of his own drum, even to the point of invoking a word -- 'courage' -- for which he was derided back when he first introduced it 20-some years ago." The Associated Press described his use of the term as an act of "steadfast defiance." But the Arizona Republic began an editorial by remarking, "If Dan Rather's got a scab, he can't help but pick it." Tom Jicha, the TV writer for the Fort Lauderdale, FL Sun-Sentinel, remarked that Rather dredged up the term for "a rambling, paternalistic discourse." He then observed: "Inexplicable and unforgivable was Rather's failure to mention that veteran newsman Bob Schieffer would be filling his place at the anchor desk on an interim basis, starting tonight. This was an especially ungracious breach of protocol. Cronkite plugged Rather as his replacement in his final broadcast and NBC's Tom Brokaw did the same for Brian Williams in December. It might not have been an oversight. Rather is an intensely proud, contentious man, known for shutting out those who challenge him in any way." Schieffer was one of the first CBS News personalities to criticize Rather's now-discredited report about President Bush's National Guard service."

ANOTHER CBS NEWS VETERAN SUES NETWORK

A senior producer of the Wednesday edition of 60 Minutes has sued CBS, alleging age discrimination and defamation. Esther Kartiganer, who is 67 and who had worked for CBS News for 40 years, said that she was defamed by CBS chief Les Moonves when he said that "It is difficult to understand how a person of Kartiganer's toughness and experience had abnegated her assigned function" in evaluating the so-called "memogate" feature and that "CBS News is the worse for it." Kartiganer said in her lawsuit that her involvement in the feature was minimal, that she was merely assigned to review the excerpts of interviews used on it to ensure that they were not taken out of context. Following the flap, she alleged, she was demoted, lost her senior producer title, was given a 20-percent pay cut, and replaced by a person 20 years her junior. A spokesman for the network said that Kartiganer was not fired and that it based its actions in her case on the findings of the panel that investigated the 60 Minutes report.

PBS NEWS MAGAZINE KILLS FEATURE ABOUT PBS WRANGLE

The PBS newsmagazine Now has killed a planned feature concerning the controversy over PBS's decision not to distribute an episode of its kids show Postcards From Buster in which an animated bunny visits the Vermont home of a real-life lesbian couple and their children, the Washington Post reported today (Thursday). The episode had been denounced by Education Secretary Margaret Spellings. Karen Pike, one of the lesbian moms, told the newspaper that Now's producer, Brian Myers, told her that the story had been killed because no one from the Department of Education or PBS would agree to an interview. "One more time I'm hearing that my family is considered invalid by PBS unless they have somebody on the other side that can condemn me," Pike said. A PBS spokeswoman told the Post that the network simply wanted to see "where they were taking [the story]" before deciding "who might be the appropriate person or is it appropriate."

IDOL FINALISTS WIN NIGHT FOR FOX

Wednesday night's unveiling of the 12 American Idol finalists pulled a 15.7 rating and a 23 share -- enough to give Fox another nightly win. The 9:00 program was followed by The Simple Life 3, and although it lost most of Idol's lead-in audience, its 8.5/13 was well above that of any competing show.

BURNETT SLAPPED WITH COUNTERSUIT BY PRODUCT-PLACEMENT FIRM

Madison Road Productions has countersued reality show producer Mark Burnett, accusing him of defamation and libel in its earlier claim that Madison Road had demanded exorbitant fees for product-placement deals on Burnett's shows and pocketed much of the money itself. In its own suit, Madison Road accused Burnett of driving up the price of placement deals. "Then, when the market wouldn't bear his fees, he looked for a scapegoat. ... It was Madison Road who began questioning the outlandish fees demanded by Burnett's companies, not the other way around." Madison
Road's attorney accused Burnett of launching his lawsuit at the same time that he formed a new company to lure product-placement deals directly. "This is a case of David Versus Goliath," Madison Road attorney Martin Singer told today's (Thursday) Los Angeles Times. It is a story, he said, of "what happens when someone tries to intimidate someone and tries to put them out of business."

DISNEY DISSIDENTS RESUME DISNEYWAR

Former Disney board members Roy Disney and Stanley Gold are expected to send what is described as "a blistering letter" to the current board today, blasting plans for Michael Eisner to participate in the search for his successor, the New York Post reported today (Thursday) in its "Page Six" column. According to the newspaper, which said that it had obtained "parts" of the letter, Disney and Gold say that "if Eisner is allowed to be present, it will make a mockery of the idea that candidates should have meaningful interchanges with the Board and it will subvert the entire search process." The letter also demands an investigation of claims in James Stewart's Disney exposé DisneyWar that the company overpaid Rupert Murdoch's News Corp for the Fox Family Channel by as much as $2 billion. A spokesperson for the Disney company told the Post: "No letter has been received. However, they've been egregiously and consistently wrong in the past and this is more of the same."

NO MORE BLUES FOR BLOCKBUSTER?

Blockbuster, which has been singing the blues in its quarterly reports in recent years, suddenly saw a huge jump in net income in its fourth quarter. With retail sales rising 23 percent, the video chain reported net income of $900,000 versus a loss of $1.2 billion during the comparable period a year ago. Nevertheless, the company's new "no late fees" policy did not appear to affect overall performance, perhaps because it was not unveiled until December. Rental revenue for the quarter, it said, was $1.147 billion, virtually flat with last year's $1.146 billion. Video game sales, however, shot up 14.4 percent from the previous year to $239 million, while DVD sales increased $10.2 million to $203 million.

MPAA CHIEF BUYS PIRATE VIDEO -- OF HIS SON'S MOVIE

Only days after The Pacifier opened in U.S. theaters, MPAA chief Dan Glickman was able to purchase a bootleg copy of the movie on the streets of Mexico City. The movie was produced by his son Jonathan but has not been released in Mexico. "It was disturbing," he told a news conference in the Mexican capital Wednesday. He said that Mexican President Vicente Fox had assured him of cooperation in its efforts to stamp out some 6,000 pirate vendors, many of whom openly sell bootleg videos in the city's subway stations.

BRITISH UNIVERSITY TO PRODUCE FILM FOR HOLLYWOOD SHOWCASE

Actor Jason Connery has announced plans to screen a short film made by students at Coventry University in England at his Los Angeles showcase, Short Mondays. On hand for the opening of a new media center at the university, Connery, the son of Sean Connery, has reportedly agreed to provide a script that will be converted into a short film by the Coventry students and then screened at Short Monday, a showcase that is held at a Hollywood restaurant on the first Sunday of each month. In an interview with the London Telegraph, Connery said, "What is really exciting is this idea of a liaison between Coventry and Hollywood. As long as you can tell a story you can make a film."

SONY PREPARES FOR HIGH-DEFINITION HOME VIDEO

Sony said on Wednesday that it is in the process of digitizing its entire film library in the high-definition format in advance of their release on Blu-Ray DVDs. Appearing at the CEBIT consumer electronics fair in Hanover, Germany, Chris Deering, president of Sony Europe, said, "There will be an immense choice [of movies] from day one." The Sony library is estimated to comprise 6000 titles. Also on Wednesday, it was reported that Apple Computers had joined the Blu-Ray backers who are waging a format war against sponsors of the rival HD-DVD technology.