At least 20 federal agencies have produced and distributed hundreds of promotional news clips during the past four years, many of which have aired on the news programs of local TV stations with no disclosure of the government's role in their production, the New York Times disclosed Sunday. They include a State Department-produced clip filmed in Kansas City purportedly showing reaction of Iraqi-Americans to the fall of Baghdad, with one man appearing on camera saying, "Thank you, Bush. Thank you, U.S.A." Another report showed a public relations worker for the Transportation Security Administration appearing on camera as a "reporter" describing the administration's launch of a security program as "one of the most remarkable campaigns in aviation history." The "reporter," the newspaper revealed, also "used a false name." Although recent articles have suggested that a handful of columnists and commentators had been paid by the Bush administration to air positive reports about its programs and policies, the Times said, "the administration's efforts to generate positive news coverage have been considerably more pervasive than previously known." The article also accused television stations of "widespread complicity or negligence" and violating ethics standards by airing the clips without attribution.
A "PIVOTAL TIME" FOR TV NEWS
Broadcast news has entered a "pivotal time" brought about by the rise of Internet bloggers, the departure of Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather as nightly news anchors, and CBS's discredited report about President Bush's National Guard service, according to a study by the Washington-based think tank, Project for Excellence in Journalism. Today's (Monday) Orlando Sentinel quotes Tom Rosenstiel, the project's director, as saying, "The big change is that citizens are being transformed from passive consumers of news prepared for them by professionals into proactive assemblers of their own journalism." The study concluded that cable news outlets tend to be less thorough than broadcast news networks and that their stories include more opinion. It found that Fox News reports include opinion in seven out of 10 stories while the ratio was one in 10 on CNN and 3 in 10 on MSNBC. Commenting on the study, Fox News producer Jerry Burke told the Washington Post: "I encourage the anchors to be themselves. I'm certainly not going to step in and censor an anchor on any issue."
SHIEFFER QUICKLY IMPLEMENTS CHANGES IN CBS EVENING NEWS
Although he had been expected to preside over the CBS Evening News as it had previously prevailed during Dan Rather's tenure, Bob Schieffer, together with executive producer Jim Murphy, quickly began making significant alterations to the format on Thursday, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported today (Monday). Schieffer has begun discussing stories with correspondents in off-the-cuff interviews, explaining to the newspaper, "I'm trying to shift the focus to our correspondents. ... I want to be, for lack of a better word, a guide for viewers from one story to the next." Murphy indicated that he had quickly approved the change, adding, "He's a clear conversationalist, and I'm playing to that. ... He asks the kinds of questions people at home would ask." Murphy graded Schieffer's debut "an absolute A-plus" and said that "he succeeded beyond my expectations."
TOP MEDIA EXEC SAID TO HAVE URGED RACIAL DISCRIMINATION
Documents recently unsealed in a lawsuit indicate that the Des Moines-based media company Meredith Corp. fired Kevin O'Brien, head of its broadcast group, after documenting repeated cases of racial discrimination. The Associated Press reported Sunday that in one memo, O'Brien wrote, "We've got to quit hiring all these black people." In another he complained that the Meredith station in Atlanta was "too black" and advised executives there not to hire "old black guys." He explained, "These guys don't listen, they have attitudes, and you can't control them." O'Brien's attorney denied that his client is a racist and said that the memos were being selectively leaked in order to embarrass him.
SEE JANE RUN (OUT)
Jane Pauley's return to television as the host of a daytime talk show has turned out to be shortlived. The trade publication TVWeek reported that the syndicated NBC Universal show, which premiered seven months ago, will cease production next month, with a mix of repeats and original shows set to conclude the season. In a statement, Pauley said, "We started out with an enormous vote of confidence from our stations and have seen our audience grow steadily from November until now, but it came too late for too many to stick with us." Most stations currently carrying Pauley are expected to replace her show with a new version of Martha Stewart Living.
JUDGE LIFTS GAG ORDER ON LENO'S GAGS
The judge presiding at the Michael Jackson trial in Santa Maria, CA effectively lifted a gag order on Friday that had kept Jay Leno from joking about the case on the Tonight show. The Los Angeles Times counted 25 Jackson jokes on Friday night's show, including several referring to a claim by a prosecutor on Friday that Jackson is "on the precipice of bankruptcy." Said Leno: "Michael is so broke ... for plastic surgery he went to Nose Crafters." In a separate ruling, Judge Rodney Melville said that Jackson could file a request to respond to charges made about him on a recent ABC-TV documentary hosted by Martin Bashir.
TRUMP MAY BUY MISS AMERICA PAGEANT
Donald Trump, who may have the most famous name in Atlantic City, may come to the aid of the Miss America Pageant, the most famous annual event in Atlantic City. The Associated Press quoted Trump as saying that he has talked to the Miss America Organization about buying the pageant but has not made it an offer. Trump already owns 50 percent of the Miss Universe and Miss USA contests. Art McMaster, the CEO of the Miss America Organization, said that the group is "exploring all of our opportunities" with Trump. The beauty contest was dropped by ABC last year following record-low ratings. "It's tough: The networks don't want to put it on, and I'd like to do whatever I can to help them out," Trump told A.P.
IGER TO REPLACE EISNER IN SEPTEMBER
Disney CEO Michael Eisner will leave the mouse house on September 30 and be replaced by President Robert Iger, the company announced over the weekend. Eisner's decision to leave a full year before the expiration of his contract surprised analysts. The selection of Iger did not. In a statement, dissident shareholders Roy Disney and Stanley Gold condemned the board for failing to undertake an exhaustive search outside of the company for a successor to Eisner. They said that they found it "incomprehensible that the board of directors of Disney failed to find a single external candidate interested in the job and thus handed Bob Iger the job by default." They maintained that shareholders had "been conned and their trust in this board abused." Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Disney Chairman George Mitchell maintained that a "large number" of candidates had been evaluated by the board, but when asked to specify the "large number," Mitchell demurred. Today's (Monday) Los Angeles Times cited unnamed executive recruiters as saying that Mitchell's failure to divulge the number raised "red flags about the legitimacy of the search." Meg Whitman, the CEO of eBay, reportedly took herself out of contention after saying that the selection process had gone on too long. The Times, citing people familiar with the search process,said that Whitman was the only other candidate interviewed by the board. In a letter to the board, Eisner said, "As much as I have loved nearly every minute of my tenure, two decades is enough time to spend as a chief executive of one company." He said that he will be departing with "a considerable amount of satisfaction and even pride."
WILL IGER NOW TRY TO HEAD OFF EXITS OF JOBS AND WEINSTEINS?
The selection of Robert Iger to become CEO of the Walt Disney Company immediately touched off speculation about whether he would be able to lasso Pixar chairman Steve Jobs and Miramax co-chairmen Bob and Harvey Weinstein back into the fold. Analysts generally agreed that much depended on the amount of authority Iger would be granted with Michael Eisner remaining in his position for the next six months. Jobs has previously indicated that he intended to wait until Eisner's successor was chosen before talking to other studios about a distribution deal. Jobs had no immediate comment on Iger's selection. But on Sunday, Harvey Weinstein issued a statement saying, "I've had a great working relationship with Bob Iger and think he is a terrific choice for chief executive of the Walt Disney Company." Wall Street took a wait-and-see attitude toward the upcoming change, with Disney shares moving up slightly at midday.
ROBOTS CAPTURE TOP BOX-OFFICE SPOT
If it hadn't been for Vin Diesel, Robots would have overrun the box office over the weekend. Twentieth Century Fox's animated feature debuted with an estimated $36.5 million, but analysts agreed that it would have taken in a good deal more if it had not been forced to compete with Diesel's hit family flick The Pacifier, which earned some $18.1 million, down about 40 percent from last week. In 10 days, the movie has grossed $54.4 million. The John Travolta starrer Be Cool dropped 56 percent from its debut weekend last week to place third with $10.3 million, placing it just ahead of the premiering Hostage, starring Bruce Willis, which took in $9.8 million. Perhaps the biggest disappointment was the poor showing of the toned-down version of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, which opened in about 1,000 virtually empty theaters with just $239,850. That works out to an average of 10 tickets sold per theater per day. By contrast, the indie film Millions from director Danny Boyle grossed $73,000 in its debut in just 5 theaters.
The top ten films for the weekend, according to studio estimates compiled by Exhibitor Relations:
1. Robots, $36.5 million; 2. The Pacifier, $18.1 million; 3. Be Cool, $10.3 million; 4. Hostage, $9.8 million; 5. Hitch, $8.7 million; 6. Million Dollar Baby, $5.1 million; 7. Diary of a Mad Black Woman, $5 million; 8. Constantine, $3.7 million; 9. Man of the House, $1.8 million; 10. Cursed, $1.6 million.
LEGAL PROBLEMS CONTINUE TO HOBBLE THE HOBBIT, SAYS JACKSON
Director Peter Jackson said Saturday that continued legal problems would probably delay his planned production of The Lord of the Rings prequel The Hobbit for another three to four years. Currently New Line Cinema owns the rights to produce the film, while MGM has the rights to distribute it. Jackson observed that the acquisition of MGM by Sony further complicates matters. In an interview with the New Zealand network TVNZ, Jackson said, "I think there is probably a will and a desire to try and get [The Hobbit] made. ... But I think it's gonna be a lot of lawyers sitting in a room trying to thrash out a deal before it will ever happen."