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Heads roll for reasons big and small

I don't know what's more confounding: Dan Rather keeping his job at CBS or KOIN (6) meteorologist Dave Sweeney losing his.

Before I jump into the Rather fiasco, let's zero in on Sweeney Ñ who arrived at KOIN four years ago as the station's star weather guy and was as high energy and folksy as anyone ever to grace a Portland newscast. And in my viewing experience, he usually got the weather right.

The last time I checked, Sweeney wasn't defending alleged forgeries or putting too much trust in network producers who rushed a story onto the air. But Sweeney was let go in the past week along with two KOIN production department employees.

'We've done a lot of restructuring over the course of the year,' said KOIN General Manager David Lippoff. 'We eliminated some staffing positions, and Dave was one of the positions we eliminated.'

Indeed, if you had left Portland a year ago and returned this week, the only people you'd probably recognize on KOIN are Mike Donahue and Jeff Gianola, playing their own version of 'Survivor.'

Sources at KOIN say Sweeney's zippy, rah-rah persona was at odds with the faster-paced, straight-ahead news presentation that the station has favored in recent months.

For the time being, morning news meteorologist Katie Baker will take over Sweeney's previous slot in the dinner-hour and 11 p.m. newscasts. But Lippoff said a decision on Sweeney's permanent replacement hasn't been made.

Being a CBS affiliate, KOIN has a big stake in what happens to the network news division and specifically, Rather. Even before the President Bush-National Guard story mess, 'The CBS Evening News' ratings were eroding faster than excuses from the producers of the story.

The CBS News anchorman escaped the chopping block this week when an independent review panel into his '60 Minutes' report resulted in four news staffers being fired.

For those clamoring for Rather's head, here's the reality: Rather is giving up his 'CBS Evening News' anchor chair in March, and although he says he'll continue reporting for '60 Minutes,' the most controversial story he's likely to be assigned is the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

This development is tragic, considering Rather's long and fruitful career at the network. But the real shocker here is that CBS News President Andrew Heyward was spared, the guy who was ultimately responsible for the journalistic debacle and whose job it is to make sure mechanisms are in place to prevent such an occurrence. Oh, yes, let's not forget that during Heyward's stewardship, ratings for 'The CBS Evening News' have continued to fizzle while the network's prime-time lineup has catapulted to No. 1.

But if anyone thinks CBS has been dealt a mortal blow, think again. When NBC News was found to be rigging explosions on General Motors trucks in 1993 as part of a 'Dateline' report, guess what happened? The ratings started going up. Since the Jayson Blair scandal, The New York Times has become better than ever (and yes, it's Executive Editor Howell Raines who was subsequently drop-kicked and replaced by former Oregonian reporter Bill Keller).

Like NBC and The New York Times, CBS will re-establish its credibility by ensuring viewers that a new team with new safeguards will right the ship. So don't expect the network to stand still Ñ more heads will roll before this miniseries has ended.

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