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July 31, 2006

Editor’s Note: Cowboys Return to Cable

By Seth Arenstein

Hard news isn't dead, not as long as Ted Koppel, Dan Rather, Mark Cuban, Christiane Amanpour and Lisa Ling can scrape up some shoe leather. Ditto the crew at C-SPAN and HBO Sports, whose Bryant Gumbel-led shows consistently produce Sports Emmy-winning reports.

During the TV critics press tour in Pasadena this month, Rather and Koppel, those aged news icons, contrasted starkly with the sometimes-interchangeable youthful stars of cable networks.

Admittedly, Rather's session was more memorable for some misty-eyed moments than for anything he said. Still, it did the trick, setting up the exciting prospect of Rather with full creative and editorial control of Dan Rather Reports, a weekly in-depth news program on mega millionaire Mark Cuban's HDNet. And Cuban's verbiage added to the moment: "I don't give a damn about earnings per share. I'm not worried about advertisers." Cuban's charge to his 74-year-old employee: "There are no rules. We get to invent the rules." And don't think the 'Net is the answer, Cuban preaches. "We forgot what good journalism is all about," he says.

Of course, beyond the journalistic booty of Rather unbound, there's hope his arrival will lift all HD's boats and perhaps compel Comcast to carry HDNet.

Then there was Discovery Channel's Koppel (that's got a ring to it), espousing his oft-repeated thesis that economics make it rare to find the broadcast networks addressing serious foreign policy issues in prime time. "But with Discovery you have a network that is committed to doing precisely that," Koppel said via satellite from Guantanamo Bay.

The cred of CNN's Amanpour needs few words here. Ling is the relative newcomer. The one with movie star looks and the tenacity of a hungry bear when she's hunting down sources for her excellent single-issue specials on National Geographic Channel.

No, hard news isn't dead. It only seems so—on broadcast television.







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