Wednesday, October 26, 2005

NEW YORK (AP) — CBS yesterday appointed its top sports executive, Sean McManus, to replace Andrew Heyward as head of a news division still searching for Dan Rather’s replacement and seeking to rebound from last year’s discredited report on President Bush’s military service.

Mr. McManus, 50, follows in the path of the late Roone Arledge at ABC as an executive who took over a network news division while still running sports.

Mr. Heyward will leave two months shy of his 10th anniversary running the legendary news division, a distant third in the ratings in both the morning and evening yet still the home of TV’s top newsmagazine, “60 Minutes.”

“There was a general feeling that we needed a new vision, just a new way of looking at the news division,” said CBS chief Leslie Moonves.

Mr. Moonves has expressed discontent this fall about the ideas he has been given for revamping the “CBS Evening News.” Mr. Rather stepped down in March as its anchorman, and had made his intentions known publicly nearly a year ago.

Many in the news industry were surprised that Mr. Heyward had survived in January when an independent report faulted CBS News for rushing a story about Mr. Bush’s military service onto the air without ever proving that documents upon which it was based were real. Three executives were forced to resign and the report’s producer, Mary Mapes, was fired; Mr. Moonves concluded that Mr. Heyward had been let down by his staff.

Mr. McManus will take over as news chief on Nov. 7, one day before Ms. Mapes’ book on the episode will be published.

Mr. Heyward, who described his departure as amicable, said he thought his exit had nothing to do with that incident. His contract was expiring at the end of the year.

“This is Leslie wanting a change and so do I,” said Mr. Heyward, 55, who expects to remain active in the news business.

Hours after his appointment, a politically oriented Web log reported that Mr. McManus had made a $250 contribution to the Bush-Cheney campaign in 2004. A year earlier, he contributed $1,000 to Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick J. Leahy. A CBS spokesman confirmed the donations but would not comment about them.

Mr. Heyward presided over the network’s recent aggressive moves to improve its Internet news delivery and orchestrated a delicate transfer of power at “60 Minutes” from founder Don Hewitt to Jeff Fager. He also established the spinoff “60 Minutes II,” which Mr. Moonves canceled last spring because of poor ratings.

The appointment of a sports executive to take over news seemed a lot stranger a generation ago, before Mr. Arledge led ABC News to the top of the ratings in the 1980s.

Mr. McManus, son of the Emmy and Peabody Award-winning sports broadcaster Jim McKay, began at ABC Sports in 1977 and has been head of CBS Sports since 1996, negotiating the return of NFL football and a long-term deal to keep CBS Sports the home of the NCAA basketball tournament.

Despite the success of the CBS entertainment division, the evening news has lagged far behind NBC and ABC in the ratings.

“Maybe it’s partially because of my sports background, but I am unbelievably competitive, and so is my boss Leslie Moonves,” Mr. McManus said. “Being in third place, whether it’s sports, entertainment or news, is not acceptable.”

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