With Tom and Dan signing off, count on it that talent agent Richard Liebner will soon be signing a deal that decides who tells us about our world each night. He’s juggled Rather and Sawyer, moved Paula Zahn from Fox to CNN, and is grooming John Roberts and Anderson Cooper for jobs they both might want. Ned Martel talked to Liebner.
After 9/11, there was a sense that the country still needs an avuncular anchor figure. Do you agree?
The only way you’ll get an answer is if you have another huge traumatic event—and it comes after March, when Dan has left. Would you see Brian Williams holding his audience as a less familiar face? Or—if you consider Peter Jennings avuncular—would you see them going to Peter? But don’t forget after 9/11 the incredible response that the younger team of Aaron Brown and Paula Zahn got.
Do looks count too much now?
To me, writing is still the preeminent skill. You can hear good writing. But look at what the newscasters look like during the day on the cable channels and you’ll know that cosmetics count. Could you get an interview for Hughes Rudd or Charles Kuralt today? It would be much more difficult.
Who’s a breakout talent?
A person with skills who had it tragically taken away was David Bloom. The whole country fell in love with him in less than two weeks going across that desert.
You may have different clients up for the same job.
The only conflict of interest is not telling the truth to clients. And they know we don’t make the decision.
Any parting thoughts on Dan Rather?
The one thing I will say is that there has been too much written about the CBS National Guard story. And saying that Rather was an unbalanced newsman. This person has got to be recognized for being the great reporter-anchor of our time. LBJ never liked Rather because he was a [fellow] Texan and never played ball with him. On the Nixon-resignation night, Rather was very sensitive to Nixon after all of their battles, and Roger Mudd went after him afterward for being too soft. The talks about Dan leaving started in July [before the Guard story]. People have tried to say that they didn’t, but that’s a fact. I did those discussions.