CBS, ABC Forced News Writers Strike, Joint Staff Letter Charges

Times Staff Writers

In a show of support for striking news writers, anchormen Dan Rather of CBS and Peter Jennings of ABC and 95 other news staffers at the two networks accused the companies Wednesday of forcing the strike.

The assertion was made in an open letter released in New York as a Writers Guild of America strike against CBS and ABC news operations went into its third day. The letter said that its signers "regrettably" considered management's position in negotiations with the guild, "as it has been described to us, as one designed to force the strike."

Spokesmen from CBS and ABC declined to comment on the letter. According to CBS correspondent Robert Schakne, a signer, the letter was signed by 79 CBS staffers, including Diane Sawyer, Mike Wallace and Andy Rooney of "60 Minutes," and 18 from ABC, including Linda Ellerbee and Ray Gandolf of "Our World" and Hugh Downs, co-anchor of "20/20."

While saying "we understand there are legitimate issues of competence and flexibility that concern management," the letter nonetheless criticized ABC and CBS for their stands on issues of job security and the right to fire employees.

Quality of Product

"We feel an attempt to demean broadcast journalists will demean the quality of our product," the letter said.

A total of 525 guild members working off-camera in news and promotion at the two networks and at seven network-owned stations, including CBS-owned KCBS television and KNX-AM radio in Los Angeles, struck Monday after talks on a new contract broke down. Both sides in the strike are scheduled to meet with a federal mediator today in New York.

In Los Angeles on Wednesday, local news personalities showed their own support by stopping for breakfast with picketing writers outside of KCBS Channel 2.

Newscasters Warren Olney, Bill Stout, Patty Ecker, Steve Kmetko, Ann Curry, Digby Diehl, Valerie Coleman, Ross Becker and Hosea Sanders were among the non-striking employees who stopped for coffee and the blank, green buttons that strikers have been handing out to sympathizers. Some newscasters have been wearing the buttons on their lapels during the nightly newscasts.

Minor Gaffes

Jiggling cameras and other minor gaffes continued to plague the newscasts at both KCBS and KNX, but spokesmen for both stations told The Times that the programming had smoothed considerably since management personnel first took over Monday.

Several technicians with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 45, have been honoring the picket lines at both CBS sites in Los Angeles since the strike began.

Wednesday's strike developments coincided with a meeting in New York between CBS chief executive Laurence A. Tisch and CBS News President Howard Stringer. Afterward, Stringer issued a staff memo saying he had proposed "structural changes" in news operations and that CBS' one-man bureaus in Seattle, Bangkok and Warsaw will be "phased out."

Stringer also said "there will be layoffs" but did not specify any number. A spokeswoman said a decision on that will probably come next week.

The cuts "will be painful," Stringer said, but "we will retain our ability to be the best in broadcast journalism."

Jay Sharbutt reported from New York and Dennis McDougal from Los Angeles.

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