PENTAGON RESPONDS TO EMBED PROFILING CHARGES

Following an outcry by various organizations of journalists and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), the Pentagon said Thursday that it will review the practice of rating the work of reporters who are embedded in Afghanistan, the military newspaper Stars and Stripes reported. The newspaper, which uncovered the practice, reportedly carried out by the Washington PR firm The Rendon Group under a $1.5-million contract, quoted a Pentagon spokesman as saying that while a review had been launched, the military was "not making use of 'positive,' 'negative' and 'neutral' grades assigned to reporters' work by a Pentagon contractor." Stars and Stripes also reported that U.S. Forces-Afghanistan had maintained that the ratings served only to "help assess performance in communicating information effectively to the public" and that they were discontinued in May. His statement contradicted the Stars and Stripes report that the assessment of the embedded reporters' work also included "advice on how best to place a reporter with a military unit to ensure positive coverage and 'neutralize' negative stories." It also said that one Pentagon correspondent who requested and received her profile on Thursday said it included an assessment of her work through July. Meanwhile, National Public Radio reported Thursday that it had seen the profile of one journalist that included a statement of purpose that ended: "To gauge the expected sentiment of her coverage while on an embed mission in Afghanistan." A spokeswoman for the U.S. forces in Afghanistan acknowledged that the statement might "create the wrong impression." However, she added, "All I can do is tell you that's not how they're used." But Major Patrick Seiber, press officer for the 101st Airborne Division, said that if he saw many negative ratings about a particular reporter, he'd want to know why. "This didn't happen that often," he told NPR. "Out of all those news agencies, I can only remember a couple of times there was somebody we didn't take ... because of their bent."

LATE-NIGHT TV SETTLES INTO A GROOVE

After an early period of see-sawing ratings, the competition between David Letterman and Conan O'Brien is falling into a nightly pattern that is relatively unaffected by repeats of either of the late-night shows' hosts, the New York Times observed today (Friday). "Older viewers don't watch Conan O'Brien, even when David Letterman is in repeats; and younger viewers don t watch Mr. Letterman, even when Mr. O'Brien is in repeats," the newspaper concluded. Meanwhile, Advertising Age, reported today that ABC has launched "a short tactical campaign" to alert viewers that its Nightline is beating both Letterman and O'Brien among overall viewers. And while the numbers are close for all three programs, a wider gap could open next month with the debut of the nightly Jay Leno Show on NBC at 10:00 p.m. Noting that last week's ratings were up 35 percent over the comparable week a year ago, Nightline executive producer James Goldston told AdAge, "Our feeling is that we've got some momentum and now's the time to just kind of take that message out and remind people about the show."

A&E AND LIFETIME CABLE CHANNELS MERGE

In a somewhat complicated reorganization of their ownership and management structure, the A&E cable channel and the Lifetime channel are merging. The Walt Disney Company and the Hearst Corp. had been equal owners of Lifetime and one-third owners each of A&E. The other third of A&E was owned by NBC. Now, reports indicated, all three companies will own the merged entity, but NBC's share will be smaller than its two partners'. There was no indication in the announcement of the deal whether any money had exchanged hands. A&E President Abbe Raven will head the new company, which will retain the name A&E Television Network, while Lifetime Entertainment Services will henceforth exist as a subsidiary, with its CEO, Andrea Wong, reporting to Raven. Lifetime registered its biggest audience to date last week (August 20) with the season premiere of Project Runway.

EVEN BIG BROTHER CAN BEAT PRESEASON FOOTBALL

Who would have thunk it? Fox's preseason football coverage of the Dolphins/Tampa Bay game Thursday night got clobbered by CBS's Big Brother and other network shows. At 8:00 p.m. the Fox football telecast, which drew 6.75 million viewers during the hour, got sacked by CBS's Big Brother with 8.37 million. Repeats of other CBS Thursday fare continued to throw the NFL telecast for a loss as CBS once again won ever half hour in primetime, peaking at 9:30 pm. with 8.97 million viewers for a rerun of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.