CBS PUTS AN EYE ON ITSELF

CBS on Wednesday recruited former U.S. Attorney General Richard Thornburgh, who served under Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and Louis Boccardi, the onetime CEO of the Associated Press, to lead the independent investigation into how it bungled a report about President Bush's National Guard service. "CBS has a long tradition of responsible journalism," CBS chairman Les Moonves, who is also co-president of CBS's parent, Viacom, said in a statement. "In this case, it's clear something went seriously wrong with the process." CBS News personnel generally welcomed the appointments. "I think they'll get to the bottom of whatever it is that happened," CBS chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer told today's (Thursday) Philadelphia Inquirer. Jeff Fager, executive producer of the Sunday edition of 60 Minutes told the newspaper that the appointment of the two "sends all the right signals. ... They're both strong, reputable, very smart individuals." Nevertheless, the appointment of Thornburgh, who is also a former Republican governor of Pennsylvania, touched off additional controversy. "It is possible that the choice of Dick Thornburgh sends a signal to Republicans in terms of the desire by CBS to have legitimacy with this review panel," Bob Steele, who teaches journalism ethics at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, FL, told today's Wall Street Journal. However, he observed, Thornburgh "carries a political pedigree in a story that is so politicized that it seems debatable, and perhaps even unwise, to heighten the politicizing element of what is going on." Others questioned whether CBS News President Andrew Heyward should have participated with Moonves in the selection of the two men. And News Corp Chairman Rupert Murdoch complained that the mainstream media had not been sufficiently critical of CBS. "If it had been us," he told Editor & Publisher, referring to his Fox News Network, "we would have been crucified."

SAWYER REVEALS RATHER OPPOSED HER HIRING AT CBS

ABC Primetime Live

anchor Diane Sawyer, during a discussion of the CBS debacle on the Larry King Live show on CNN Wednesday night, disclosed that when she first came to CBS in 1981, one of the first persons she met was Dan Rather. Rather, she said, "came up to me and said, I didn't think you should be hired. I fought your being hired and I wanted you to hear it from me before you heard it from anybody else. Because I had worked in the Nixon administration. He didn't think you should go back and forth politically. And I sort of agreed with his principle. I was a little bit stunned but so honored that he would tell me to my face and he became the person who would always call me and say, have you checked the facts?"

NEWSWEEK REVEALS "IRONIC COUNTERPOINT" TO CBS DEBACLE

In what it called "an ironic counterpoint to the furor" over the Rather story, Newsweek is reporting that, in order to make room for it, 60 Minutes killed a report about how the Bush administration was deceived by forged documents purporting to show that the regime of Saddam Hussein had been trying to buy uranium from Niger. Newsweek said that a 60 Minutes team had spent more than six months on the story and that it "asked tough questions" about how the White House swallowed the deception. However, just hours before the feature was to be broadcast, Newsweek said, the story was replaced by Rather's now discredited report about President Bush's service in the Texas National Guard. Writer Joshua Micah Marshall, who had collaborated with the CBS producers of the uranium story, told Newsweek: "Here we had a very important, well-reported story about forged documents that helped lead the country to war. And then it gets bumped by another story that relied on forged documents."

ONE-TWO PUNCH CLOBBERS CBS

CBS, already reeling from the Dan Rather scandal, received a second punch from the FCC Wednesday when the agency fined it $550,000 for the Janet Jackson breast-baring incident at the Super Bowl last February. It was the biggest fine ever levied against a U.S. network. CBS vowed to fight it. "While we regret that the incident occurred and have apologized to our viewers, we continue to believe that nothing in the Super Bowl broadcast violated indecency laws," the network said in a statement. "Furthermore," it added, "our investigation proved that no one in our company had any advance knowledge about the incident."

STAR WARS DVD SET BECOMES A POTENT FORCE

In just one day, Tuesday, $115 million worth of Star Wars Trilogy DVDs and the LucasArts videogame Star Wars Battlefront was plucked off retail shelves worldwide, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment said Wednesday. Today's (Thursday) Daily Variety pointed out that most of the $115 million goes to Lucas's companies which pays a flat fee to Fox to distribute all the home video versions of the Star Wars movies except the original one. (It was not explained how profits are shared for the current set, given the fact that the original film, Episode 4, is included with Episode 5 and 6.) The three-film set is priced at $69.98, but it has been discounted by many retailers. (Amazon has it listed for $41.99.)

RENTALS FALL AT DVD STORES

The average video store made a net profit of about 9 percent in 2003, according to a study by the Video Software Dealers Association presented at a retail convention in Baltimore Wednesday. According to the study, about a quarter of all stores posted a net of 17 percent or higher; another quarter indicated that they made 9-17 percent in profits; another quarter estimated their net profits at 2-9 percent; and a final quarter showed 2 percent or less. The average rental store rented 72,272 titles during the year, down almost 25 percent from the previous year.

MPAA SUES COMPANY CHARGING TO DOWNLOAD MOVIES

The Motion Picture Association of America has sued Naples, FL-based Click Enterprises, which, it said, charges consumers subscription fees to enable them to download current movies and claims that the downloading is legal. The MPAA said in a statement that Click operates a number of Internet sites, including downloadmuch.com, which charges $24.95 per year. The trade group appeared to differentiate such paying sites from free file-sharing sites on which it had previously focused most of its attention. "These parasitic Web sites, which charge consumers fees and counsel them to break the law, reflect the worst elements of the pirate community," John Malcolm, the head of the MPAA's anti-piracy unit, said in a statement.

WARNER BROS. YANKS ALEXANDER AWAY FROM INCREDIBLES

Alexander the Great's greatest enemy may not be Darius of Persia but a family of superheroes known as The Incredibles -- or so it seemed Wednesday as Warner Bros. announced that it had decided to move the opening of Oliver Stone's $150-million Alexander from Nov. 5, when it was due to face the latest Pixar animated film about the superheroes, to Nov. 24, when it will be up against Flight of the Phoenix, Christmas with the Kranks and Beauty Shop. In a statement, the studio said that it was making the move in order to "position [the movie] better for Academy [Oscar] consideration."

NEW YORK TO PROVIDE HEALTH INSURANCE FOR OUT-OF-WORK ACTORS

New York Gov. George Pataki signed a bill Tuesday that will allow state funds to be used to help actors and other entertainment industry members who work sporadically or seasonally maintain their health insurance when they are not working. Although advanced by Actors Equity, which represents stage performers, the measure covers movie, TV, music, and even circus performers as well. To qualify, a performer must have an income of less than $19,345 a year for an individual or $32,594 for a family of three.

SHAWSHANK: BEST FILM NEVER TO HAVE WON AN OSCAR

Moviegoers participating in a poll conducted by the BBC publication Radio Times have voted the 1994 movie The Shawshank Redemption the best movie never to have won a major Oscar. The film had been nominated in seven Oscar categories including best picture and best actor (Morgan Freeman) but was shut out in the final tally. The film received more than a third of the votes in the Radio Times online poll. Its closest rival was the 1946 film It's a Wonderful Life, which drew 12 percent, followed by ET: The extra-Terrestrial, 2001: A space Odyssey, The Great escape, and The Wizard of Oz. Shawshank Redemption director Frank Darabont told Britain's PA News that he was truly blown away" by the vote. "Making this most meaningful is the fact that it's voted for by those whose opinions count most -- the audience," he added.