DID CBS CHOOSE BIASED PANEL TO PROBE RATHER?

Although CBS had described the panel that investigated Dan Rather's 60 Minutes II report about President Bush's National Guard service as "independent," documents produced in Rather's lawsuit against the network appear to support Rather's assertion that the choice of the panelists was intended to allay Republican criticism, the New York Times reported today (Monday). The newspaper said that Rather has unearthed internal CBS memoranda revealing that panel members were vetted by "Republican operatives." The notes include one by Linda Mason, who was named to a newly created post (senior vice president, standards and practices) following the probe, in which she writes that she feared potential former Republican Sen. Warren Redmund of New Hampshire, who was being considered as a member of the panel, would not "mollify the right." On the other hand, Mason said in her notes that Dick Thornburgh, the former U.S. attorney general who led the panel with former AP CEO Louis Boccardi, had received "high marks from [the] GOP."

OBAMA DRAWS HUGE RATINGS

President-elect Barack Obama indicated Sunday that he may revive the concept of the Fireside Chat introduced by Franklin Roosevelt in March 1933 when he spoke to the nation about the bank crisis. ("Some of our bankers had shown themselves either incompetent or dishonest. ... They had used the money entrusted to them in speculations and unwise loans," Roosevelt said.) Appearing on CBS's 60 Minutes, Obama was asked by correspondent Steve Kroft, "Are you going to talk a lot to the American people on television and radio?" In his response Obama said, "One the of the things that I do think is important is to be able to explain to the American people what you're doing and why you're doing it. That is something that I think every great president has been able to do. ... And I want to make sure that I can recreate a bond of trust between the presidency and the public that I think has been lost." If the 60 Minutes interview is any indication, such telecasts could draw a sizable audience. Sunday's telecast attracted 24.49 million viewers, a tad less than the 25.34 million who tuned in to the football overrun that preceded it. (By contrast, NBC's Sunday Night Football, which dominated the rest of primetime Sunday, averaged 17.02 million viewers.

WGA MEMBERS ARRESTED FOR PICKETING AT HOLLYWOOD MALL

The Writers Guild of America may sue a Hollywood shopping mall where several of its members were arrested last week on trespassing charges after reportedly being told by mall security guards that they could not hand out leaflets on the property, the site of auditions for Fox's American Idol. The leaflets charged that FremantleMedia, which produces Idol and other programs, "refuses to treat its writers fairly." The WGA members, who included the guild's assistant executive director, Jeff Hermanson, were handed over to L.A. police officers and later released on bail. The guild claimed that its members were exercising their First Amendment rights and were not obstructing the operations of the mall. In a statement on Friday, the union said that it was considering suing the Hollywood & Highland Center for false arrest, claiming that the California Supreme Court has upheld the right of free expression in shopping malls, calling them the contemporary equivalent of the town square.

NCIS CONTINUES TO PULL BIG RATINGS

For the second week in a row, a repeat of CBS's NCIS has drawn more viewers than any other offering on Friday night. The result -- the two episodes averaged 11 million viewers each -- is particularly extraordinary given the fact that it had replaced The Ex List, which was yanked off the network's schedule because of low ratings. Last week, an all-new episode of NCIS on Tuesday night attracted 18.8 million viewers. Today's (Monday) New York Times observed that the top ratings for the drama have come despite the fact that the series is six years old, lands on few magazine covers, enjoys almost no love from critics and never gets a sniff of a nomination for prestigious awards." In an interview with the newspaper, writer-producer Shane Brennan, credited with "breathing life" into the franchise, said, "The Emmys don't have a category for us," but if it did it would have to be something like "hugely popular but not critically acclaimed dramas."