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Suzanne Plunkett, Associated Press
CBS News President Andrew Heyward is briefed by anchorman Dan Rather

UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. — The single dumbest statement made during the Television Critics Association press tour here came from the mouth of NBC Universal president Jeff Zucker.

Commenting on the report CBS commissioned in the wake of the botched story on George W. Bush's National Guard service, Zucker said, "I think there's a lot of incredibly important lessons to be learned in that report. . . . We learned lessons at NBC more than a decade ago when we had an issue with 'Dateline.' And we instituted an enormous number of safeguards that would never have allowed something like this to happen."

Zucker was referring to the little 1992 incident in which "Dateline" reported on the propensity of certain truck fuel tanks to explode — particularly when they were rigged to explode by NBC's addition of small, remote-controlled rockets attached to the underside of the vehicles.

Still, in the wake of CBS's troubles, Zucker insisted, "Nothing like that could have gotten through at any level because of the safeguards that we instituted more than a decade ago."

What total baloney. When something like this happens, anyone working at any news outlet (and Zucker was a longtime news producer) should be thinking, "There but for the grace of God go I."

This sort of thing has happened at every network. At every newspaper covering press tour. At every local TV station. Everywhere.

Heck, I personally know three TV critics who lost their jobs when they got caught plagiarizing. (And we're just supposed to be writing our opinions!)

In the end, journalism involves people, and people make mistakes. Not always intentionally, but often surprisingly stupidly.

Even NBC News president Neal Shapiro said, "You can never say never" about such an occurrence (about an hour after Zucker said, "never").

And "NBC Nightly News" anchorman Brian Williams added, "I think this is a glass-house issue, probably more than some of my colleagues."

More than Zucker, obviously.

It's a great quote, though. A lot of us will be hanging on to that one for whenever NBC does get caught in something. Which it will. As will we all.

WHILE THERE HAVE BEEN CALLS for CBS News president Andrew Heyward's job in the wake of that bungled "60 Minutes" report, CBS chairman Leslie Moonves isn't listening. Based on the independent report into the incident, the network chieftain doesn't hold Heyward responsible. "I think he was led down a wrong path by his people. . . . If you read the report, at every step of the way Andrew asked the right questions, he demanded the right answers; he didn't get them.

"I think he was let down by his people, and that's why I took the actions that I did. I have total confidence in Andrew and his ability to reshape CBS News."

While Dan Rather is being eased out as the anchor of "The CBS Evening News," he will remain with CBS News as a reporter on "60 Minutes" and other broadcasts.

"I do not have any doubt that Dan Rather is capable," Moonves said. "Remember, Dan Rather has had a long and illustrious career as a top-rated and a top-notch reporter, and I have no problem with him continuing in that role."

And he rejects criticism that the bungled report was the result of anti-Bush bias.

"I think the panel was very, very clear about saying they felt there was no political bias whatsoever," Moonves said, and he agrees.


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