Both CBS and Dan Rather maintained Tuesday that his decision to step down as anchor of the CBS Evening News had nothing to do with the controversy over his now discredited report about George W. Bush's National Guard record. "I have always said that I'd know when the time was right to step away from the anchor chair," Rather said in a statement. "This past summer, CBS and I began to discuss this matter in earnest -- and we decided that the close of the election cycle would be the appropriate time." Nevertheless, his statement appeared to conflict with those he made only last month when he appeared on a panel with fellow network anchors Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings at the sixth annual New Yorker Festival at the New York Public Library. Asked whether he had any thoughts about retiring, he replied, "Sure, I have thoughts about stepping down. Everyone has thoughts." However, he added, so long as he continued to enjoy the job and "think I can do it reasonably well -- and more important, as long as the people I work for think I can do it reasonably well -- I want to continue doing it. I don't have a date. I don't have a time frame." He had also told Larry King that he intended to remain at the anchor desk "as long as my health holds, which is one of those things you never can predict. As long as I feel good about doing it. As long as they want me to do it." CBS chief Les Moonves told today's (Wednesday) New York Times that Rather reached his decision to step down about 10 days ago during a meeting at Viacom's New York headquarters. "Dan was very emotional," Moonves told the newspaper. "Clearly, this job and CBS News mean a lot to him. It was a very hard decision for him. Dan said to me, 'I'd like to do this on my own terms.' We totally supported him." Moonves said he felt compelled to inform the panel investigating Rather's National Guard report about the conversation.


Dan Rather's announcement on Tuesday that he is stepping down as anchor of the CBS Evening News generated mixed reactions from his supporters and detractors. Conservative talk-show host Michael Medved told CNSNews.com, a unit of the conservative Media Research Center, that it will be "universally interpreted as some kind of concession ... of wrongdoing, a mistake, of shabby behavior" exhibited by his report criticizing President Bush's National Guard service. He called the decision "appropriate" and "a very positive development." But Brent Bozell, president of the Media Research Center, said that Rather's resignation "is not going to correct the enormous credibility problems" at CBS News "We have always felt the liberal bias problem that permeates that network goes far beyond Mr. Rather," he said. "There are a lot of people who hate Dan Rather and CBS News because they were at the forefront of a lot of difficult work, starting with the civil rights movement, continuing through Vietnam and Watergate," CBS Evening News executive producer Jim Murphy told the New York Times. "There are people who were never going to trust him because they did not agree with what was happening to their country." Tobe Berkovitz, associate dean of Boston University's school of communication, told the Washington Post: "Dan Rather did the Texas two-step, one step ahead of the posse," referring to the independent panel headed by former U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh and former Associated Press chief Louis D. Boccardi that is investigating the National Guard report. "It was inevitable that Viacom and CBS were going to have to get rid of him."


CBS's CSI: Crime Scene Investigation scored the highest ratings of its five-year history last week as it marked its 100th episode. With 31,463,000 viewers tuning in, the broadcast even narrowly outdrew the seventh game of the Yankees-Red Sox playoff series, which had previously been the highest-rated telecast of the current season. The results took only a bit of the shine off the numbers for ABC's Desperate Housewives, which drew a prodigious 24,210,000 viewers, to rank second in last week's Nielsen ratings. It, too, drew the biggest audience in its history (although it only went on the air this season), thanks in large measure to the brouhaha that ensued following the airing of a teaser on Monday Night Football three days earlier in which one of the show's stars was seen supposedly seducing one of the players.

The top ten shows of the week according to Nielsen Research:

1. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS, 19.2/28; 2. Desperate Housewives, ABC, 14.7/21; 3. CSI: Miami, CBS, 14.6/23; 4. Without a Trace, CBS, 12.8/21; 5. E.R., NBC, 12.6/20; 6. Survivor: Vanuatu, CBS, 12.0/19; 7. Everybody Loves Raymond, CBS, 11.7/17; 8. NFL Monday Night Football, ABC, 11.6/19; 9. Two and a Half Men, CBS, 11.5/17; 10. CSI: NY, CBS, 11.3/19.


World Wrestling Entertainment Chairman Vince McMahon parodied the Monday Night Football controversy on Monday's telecast of Raw on Spike TV. As the telecast opened with a shot of wrestler Shelton Benjamin, who is black, confronting female wrestler Trish Stratus, wearing a towel, in the locker room, McMahon burst into the room just as Stratus was about to remove the towel, shouting, "This is unconscionable. This is scandalous. I can see the moral fabric of America disintegrating right before my very eyes. The sexual overtones, the racial overtones. ... I'm sorry, the FCC is not going to tolerate this, and neither will I. ... I'm not going to have a locker room of deviants. This is the WWE, this is not the NFL and it damn sure is not the NBA. This is the kind of sexual titillation that would send you up into the stands and attack the audience."


Although Viacom is challenging an FCC fine of $550,000 for airing Janet Jackson's breast-baring during the halftime show at last February's Super Bowl game, it nevertheless agreed Tuesday to pay the FCC a record $3.5 million to settle complaints that it aired indecent material on its Infinity radio stations during the Howard Stern and Opie & Anthony syndicated programs. Far from including a statement admitting no wrongdoing in the settlement, Viacom conceded that it had aired obscene and indecent material and promised to take steps, including the use of audio delays, to prevent such material from being broadcast in the future. A spokeswoman for the Parents Television Council, headed by Brent Bozell, denounced the settlement, telling the Los Angeles Times that it was "ridiculously low for a multibillion-dollar corporation that has repeatedly flouted the law." In an interview with the Associated Press, John Dunbar of the Center for Public Integrity, observed that when Mel Karmazin was its president and COO, Viacom had a reputation for battling the FCC over such matters. While the settlement may make good business sense, Dunbar told the wire service, it poses a risk to freedom of speech. "Regardless of what the content of the speech was, I'm not sure that it's such a great thing for there not to be a debate on it," Dunbar said.


It will be Alexander against the critics over the Thanksgiving Day holiday. So far, the conqueror appears to be taking a gory beating from every side. "Not just a bad movie but a bad movie of truly epic proportions," is the way Geoff Pevere describes it in the Toronto Star. Eleanor Ringel Gillespie in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution calls it "a Big Fat Greek Bust." Despite all the pre-release discussion about Alexander's supposed bisexuality depicted in the film, Manohla Dargis in the New York Times suggests that Oliver Stone's depiction of the Greek warrior is really all about his "running away from his mother," portrayed by Angelina Jolie, she says, as a monstrous "kvetch." Jack Mathews in the New York Daily News concludes that after watching the movie he now understands how Alexander conquered most of the known world by age 25: "He may have bored everyone into submission. I would have surrendered in the first of the film's nearly three long hours." Colin Farrell, in the title role, takes some direct attacks as well. "Sporting a dreadful blond pageboy and a micro-mini toga ... Colin Farrell looks more like Alexander the Fabulous than Alexander the Great." Likewise, Wesley Morris observes in the Boston Globe: that the movie "is full of brilliant highlights, and they're all in Colin Farrell's hair." Stephen Hunter in the Washington Post writes that Farrell "overacts with the wah-wah-wahs gushing," But those involved in the making of the film do find an ally in Michael Wilmington of the Chicago Tribune, who describes it as "vast, riveting, [and] madly audacious." And Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times suggests that director Stone deserves an "A" for effort. "I have always admired Oliver Stone's courage in taking on big, challenging films, and his gift for marrying action and ideas," he writes. However, he continues, in Alexander, " his urgency outraces his narrative; he gives us provocative notes and sketches but not a final draft. The film doesn't feel at ease with itself. It says too much, and yet leaves too much unsaid."


Critics are positively cranky about Christmas with the Kranks. Certainly most of them don't seem the least amused by the Joe Roth-directed comedy, starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Tim Allen. Jami Bernard in the New York Daily News calls it "a so-called comedy stuffed with bigotry, intolerance and bullying." Lou Lumenick in the New York Post damns it as "loud, course and witless." Stephen Hunter in the Washington Post writes that it offers "a leaden whimsy so heavy it threatens to crash through the multiplex floor." Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times describes it as "a holiday movie of stunning awfulness." And Philip Wuntch in the Dallas Morning News predicts that "post-holiday depression may come early this year for those who see Christmas With the Kranks."


Under sometimes withering questioning by attorneys for Disney shareholders, Disney Chairman George Mitchell, the former U.S. Senator, appeared to acknowledge Tuesday that the Disney board merely rubber-stamped Michael Eisner's choice of Michael Ovitz to become president of the company in 1995. Mitchell testified that the board never considered Ovitz's qualifications for the job, never tried to ascertain what he was previously earning at the Creative Artists Agency, never compared the compensation package that he was offered with that of his predecessor Frank Wells, never looked at an analysis of the package by compensation expert Graef Crystal, and that when the decision was made to fire Ovitz, no board member asked that a special meeting be called to discuss Ovitz's $140-million severance package. At one point, Delaware Chancery Court Judge William Chandler III, who is hearing the case without a jury, asked Mitchell if the board had discussed the financial risk of a no-fault termination in Ovitz's contract. Mitchell replied that he could not recall. When Chandler asked what information the board had received that led them to believe a no-fault severance was the company's only option, he again replied that he could not recall anything regarding that "precise question."


The actor who admitted giving a friend his copies of Academy Awards screeners that ended up on the Internet has been ordered to pay more than $600,000 in damages and attorney's fees to Columbia and Warner Bros. studios. In a statement, a Warner Bros. spokesperson said that the high fine meted out to Carmine Caridi will send "a clear message that the law will deal swiftly and sternly with anyone who violates the intellectual property rights of others." But in an interview with today's (Wednesday) Los Angeles Times, the 70-year-old Caridi said that he had been unable to respond to the lawsuit because he couldn't afford an attorney. "I gave the videos to someone who put it on the Internet without my knowledge," Caridi said. "If I would've known that he was going to do that, I would have never sent them to him. I feel the only thing I did wrong was dishonoring the pact I had with the academy by giving the screener to another person. I got my punishment from them -- they kicked me out after 22 years."