Gumbel quits CBS Early Show; Wallace, Moyers announce plans to slow down their production
Some of the most famous faces in television news are walking away from their careers at the top of the heap. After only two and a half disappointing years, Bryant Gumbel is calling it quits as host of The Early Show on CBS.
Hired away from NBC after 15 years hosting the Today show with a $5 million-per-year contract, Mr. Gumbel's attempt at a prime-time magazine show, Public Eye, couldn't attract enough eyeballs to survive. With The Early Show remaining stubbornly in third place (despite making a profit for the network), Mr. Gumbel decided it's time to try something else.
Network executives would not acknowledge that the host's prickly personality and liberal barbs might have played a role in the ratings loss. Mr. Gumbel will still host the show Real Sports on HBO.
That's not the only shock to the CBS system. Mike Wallace, who turns 84 in May, says that by autumn, he will scale back his involvement with 60 Minutes, the CBS news magazine that he helped start in 1968. Mr. Wallace, the oldest full-time news correspondent in network television, said he would cut his workload in half and try to avoid the hassles of reporting stories from far-flung corners of the globe.
The show's historic record-23 years as one of TV's top 10 programs in the ratings-came to an end last year as the show's audience aged into an average in the late 50s, which scares network executives who are always obsessed with the 18-to-49 demographic.
But viewers remain much younger than the talent: Commentator Andy Rooney is 83, reporter Morley Safer is 70, and executive producer Don Hewitt is 79. (The other correspondents -Ed Bradley, Lesley Stahl, and Steve Kroft-are all youngsters around 60.)
At PBS, former CBS star Bill Moyers is also planning to slow down. "I told PBS that at the end of this year I was going to step back ... without filling in the blank of what's next," Mr. Moyers says. "I am planning a less productive operation. But I can't be specific, because I don't know."
Who's a terrorist?
Minnesota paper flinches at using the 'T' word
In a protest against the Minneapolis Star Tribune for its refusal to use the word terrorist when describing Palestinian suicide bombers, the grassroots group Minnesotans Against Terrorism took out a full-page ad in the April 2 edition of the newspaper, complete with 350 signatures.
The list was studded with the Gopher State's political elite, including its two Democratic senators, Paul Wellstone and Mark Dayton, Gov. Jesse Ventura, four Minnesota members of Congress, former governor Arne Carlson, and former Sens. Dave Durenberger and Rudy Boschwitz.
The left-wing group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting is confronting the group's leaders and charging that any attempt to avoid a double standard would include references to "the 'terrorist' bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to U.S. support for 'terrorist' governments in Central America that killed hundreds of thousands of civilians, to the U.S.'s 'terrorist' attacks on civilian infrastructure in Iraq and Yugoslavia."
Minnesotans Against Terrorism argues that the State Department has officially declared Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, and other violent Palestinian groups to be "terrorist organizations," but the newspaper prefers less "judgmental" words like militants.
Wall Street repaved
Business daily has first redesign in 60 years
Another aging media legend had a facelift: The Wall Street Journal. On April 9, the Journal tossed aside its traditional formula of tiny front-page headlines and black-and-white stodginess in favor of multi-column headlines and color, the first redesign of the paper in 60 years.
The redesign took inspiration from the paper's 4-year-old Friday "Weekend Journal" section, which attracts less financially fixated readers with movie reviews, sports, travel, shopping tips, and cultural commentary. The paper is adding a "Personal Journal" section on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays to attract more advertising from high-end retailers and makers of luxury items.
Backed by a large ad campaign and expensive new presses, the colorized version of the nation's leading business daily reflects an ongoing battle for more subscribers and advertisers among the nation's elite newspapers. With a daily circulation of about 1.8 million, the Journal ranks second after USA Today (2.2 million). The New York Times lags behind in third at 1.1 million.
Bearing the burden
IRS: Top income earners pay almost all federal income taxes
Think the "rich" aren't paying their fair share of taxes? Think again. Americans in the top 5 percent of income are carrying more and more of the income-tax burden, according to IRS statistics. The bottom half of income earners only pays a fraction of the federal take.
Bill Gates isn't the typical top 5 percenter. The group includes many who are traditionally considered middle class, with the boom in two-income households placing more families in the top tax bracket. Also, the category includes millions of small businesses and partnerships who pay graduated personal-income tax scales instead of the flat corporate rates.
For 1999 (the most recent year with complete IRS statistics), 6.3 million taxpayers whose incomes were in the top 5 percent paid more than 55 percent of all income taxes. They had adjusted gross incomes above $120,846 a year, meaning spouses could earn a bit over $60,000 each and be considered "rich" by the federal government.
Taxpayers in the bottom half paid only 4 percent of income taxes in 1999, according to the IRS. These 63 million taxpayers earned, on average, less than $26,415 a year.
The Bush tax cut won't necessarily change matters for top income earners, because these households have incomes too high to benefit from its major provisions. The child tax credit, for example, is currently $600 and gradually will rise to $1,000. The IRS reports it is a major factor in taxpayer refunds. Yet this year the credit starts phasing out for married couples filing jointly who earn more than $110,000 a year.
Oprah's final chapter?
Winfrey: Good books are harder to find
Is Oprah Winfrey closing the book on her book club? The TV host told her audience she's cutting back on selections, saying high-quality picks are becoming harder to find.
Many fiction authors consider Oprah's book club the literary equivalent of a lottery: a financial windfall almost impossible to win. But now, she says, "It has become harder and harder to find books on a monthly basis that I feel absolutely compelled to share."
Critics claimed the book club chose sentimentalism over quality. A minor backlash against the Oprah phenomenon came when author Jonathan Franzen, whose novel The Corrections won her seal of approval, criticized some of the book picks as "schmaltzy" and "one-dimensional."
The last Oprah pick (at least for now) went to an author who doesn't really need the publicity: Toni Morrison. The host and the author have been close for years. Ms. Winfrey produced and starred in the disastrous 1998 movie adaptation of Ms. Morrison's Beloved.
N.Y. makes abortion training mandatory
Many up-and-coming New York City doctors face mandatory abortion training starting this summer. A program backed by Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg requires that obstetrics and gynecology residents learn procedures to kill unborn children unless they opt out for moral or religious reasons.
The plan was cooked up by the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League and takes effect in July. Currently, such training is elective, as it is in most residency programs nationwide, according to Dr. Van Dunn, senior vice president of New York's Health and Hospitals Corp. "In the past, the residents would have to choose to do it," he said. "This way they know that it's part of their rotation, so they would then have to say they don't want to do it."
Lori Hougens of the New York State Right-to-Life Committee objected to the concept of abortion as part of basic health care: "They're trying to steer the consciences of residents and make [abortion] just a normal thing for them to do."