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Bob Schieffer Could Bail Out CBS Evening News (again)

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- A few years ago, CBS was desperate to find a replacement for Dan Rather, who was forced out after the network publicly apologized for a disastrous segment about President Bush's National Guard record. CBS needed to install a stopgap who could keep the ratings intact, reassure advertisers and calm colleagues.

Bob Schieffer, the optimistic face of "Face the Nation" and a respected CBS veteran, all but rode into the breach atop a white horse. He not only restored order, but also managed to do what seemed nearly impossible at the time: increase the size of the network's evening-news audience.

Golly, what do you know? CBS is again in a jam at 6:30 p.m.

If you believe what you read (and I always do), CBS may soon have to replace another "CBS Evening News" anchor, Katie Couric, who has held that job since September 2006. Dogged by terrible ratings and endless criticism of her work, the embattled Couric is expected to announce she'll be leaving the network before year-end.

Schieffer could work his magic once again if Couric decides to leave the evening-news anchor position.

Talk of departure

For its part, CBS believes talk of Couric's departure is moot. CEO Leslie Moonves has repeatedly backed her publicly, reportedly saying that the network had no plans to change anchors.

Moonves is one of the smartest people in the entertainment business, but I think he learned a lesson in the news division. News isn't entertainment at 6:30 p.m., when people want to see a credible person delivering the day's headlines.

I don't quite buy his most recent show of support for Couric. After all, Madison Square Garden Chairman James Dolan finally found a way to remove last-place New York Knicks coach Isiah Thomas after months of publicly backing him.

Now Moonves has to find a way to oust Couric while somehow allowing everyone concerned to save face.

I wrote in a that Scott Pelley, the veteran CBS News correspondent who has distinguished himself on "60 Minutes," would be a good choice. I still feel that way, but Schieffer would be a useful bridge from Couric to Pelley.

Good press

It's a good bet that Schieffer could accomplish another feat at CBS: getting the media on the network's side.

Couric has received more bad press over a prolonged period than any media figure I've ever seen -- yes, even worse than former New York Times reporter Jayson Blair, only because the criticism of him gradually dissolved. Couric has been getting blasted on a regular basis, with no sign of a let-up.

I've said before that Couric is manna from heaven for journalists who write about media celebrities. Much of the harsh talk isn't fair or even rational, but Couric has become such a magnet for controversy that she has come to resemble a human pinata.

If she decided to quit or if CBS wanted to reverse its latest supportive proclamation, the time to make a move is now. Nothing will be gained by waiting. It's not like we're talking about the New York Yankees who are awaiting the return of injured superstar Alex Rodriguez so the team can stage a comeback.

There is no reason to suspect that Couric can dig the "CBS Evening News" out of this deep hole -- ever. It's practically an insult to the skilled CBS employees for her to hold the broadcast and news division hostage.

I feel sympathy for longtime CBS News correspondents like Anthony Mason, Bill Plante, Bob Orr and David Martin, as well as the talented younger journalists who work hard and spark memorable segments, like Lara Logan. Elizabeth Palmer nearly died while covering the Iraq war for the network. These professionals deserve better from CBS.

Come to think of it, we all do.

Mitchell on the media's failure

Editor and Publisher Editor Greg Mitchell has written a valuable book titled "So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits -- and the President - Faile on Iraq."

Mitchell has been a critic of the Iraq invasion from the beginning, and he has been challenging journalists ever since to question the validity of the press releases provided by the government. For the past five years, he has tracked the media's sorry coverage of the war.

I recently interviewed Mitchell and asked him what advice he would give journalists to prepare for the next "big story" while the U.S. government assures us all is well.

"Be skeptical," he said.

: Should Schieffer temporarily replace Couric? Who should be the full-time successor?

: The Washington Post Co. reported distressing earnings Friday, indicating that the company -- whose assets include the Washington Post, Newsweek and Slate -- can no longer rely on education company Kaplan to lift it out of its troubles, as it has in years past. The company reported a 39% plunge in first-quarter profit, encompassing an early-retirement program at Newsweek and a continuing decline at its flagship newspaper. .

to discussing Warren Buffett's kid-gloves treatment by journalists:

"Your comments on Warren Buffett are right on target. The media acts as if this guy is a reincarnation. I'm quite sure that he is in it for the money. There is nothing inherently wrong with that. A sports analogy might be the rot being tossed about Brett Favre and his recent retirement. Both instances depict real people with real talent and Teflon surfaces."

-- Peter Mattison

"Except for an occasional story on options-related crimes of executives, you couldn't find a more sheepish attitude toward power. At least Buffett gave it back."

-- Peter Azcue

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By Jon Friedman