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NBC Names Cochran to Succeed Wallace

Times Staff Writer

Chris Wallace, the NBC White House correspondent who is going to ABC, became a lame-duck reporter Wednesday as NBC named John Cochran to succeed him immediately.

The network also said that veteran NBC newsman Garrick Utley, co-anchor of “Sunday Today,” will take over another of Wallace’s jobs.

Utley, whose Sunday program is moving to Washington and will start broadcasting from there on Jan. 29, will succeed Wallace then as moderator of NBC’s long-running “Meet the Press.”

These and other correspondent changes were announced a day after ABC News said that Wallace, NBC’s chief White House correspondent for six of his 10 years at the network, will join ABC to work on a new prime-time news program.

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It was unclear when Wallace, son of CBS’ “60 Minutes” star Mike Wallace, would start his new job. His NBC contract, which reportedly pays him $650,000 annually, doesn’t expire until Jan. 29.

Wallace, in a brief phone interview from Washington on Wednesday, pegged “early January” as when he’ll probably be able to work for ABC, possibly in time to help cover the inauguration of George Bush.

“In the meantime, NBC is not allowing me” to continue reporting, Wallace added. He said his attorney, Robert Barnett, will talk with NBC officials next week about an early release.

“It’s going to be their decision,” said ABC News Vice President Joanna Bistany, who was instrumental in Wallace’s decision to shift networks. His move had been rumored for several weeks.

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NBC News President Michael Gartner, with whom Wallace met here Tuesday when the correspondent told him he was leaving, was not available for comment.

But in a brief statement late Tuesday, Gartner said everyone at NBC wished that Wallace were staying there. “We understand his desire to be on prime-time television and we wish him well,” Gartner added.

Industry sources said that NBC, while happy with Wallace’s work, had planned to take him off the White House beat and “Meet the Press” in January, and had offered him--at a reduced salary--a newly created post as a national affairs correspondent. Now that post will be abolished, NBC said.

Wallace, who declined to discuss the specifics of the negotiations, described his final meeting with Gartner as “very amicable. There was no rancor either way.”

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Wallace’s primary job at ABC will be as chief correspondent for a new, as-yet untitled prime-time news series on which his long-time White House rival, ABC’s Sam Donaldson, also will work.

(Donaldson, also leaving the White House beat in January, will have what ABC officials vaguely describe as “a major role” on the new, one-hour series.)

Wallace said he also will contribute pieces for ABC’s existing prime-time news program, “20/20,” and for “World News Tonight,” and will also be a substitute anchor for Ted Koppel on “Nightline.” He noted, however, that he will have to ease off on that workload once the new program gets under way.

His White House successor, Cochran, has been NBC’s chief State Department correspondent, appointed to that post this year. Before that, he had been based in NBC News’ London bureau since 1978.

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Cochran’s reassignment marks his second tour at the White House.

In other staff changes announced Wednesday, all but one in Washington, NBC said that:

--Andrea Mitchell will move from the White House beat to a newly created post, chief congressional correspondent, with Ken Bode, who covered this year’s presidential campaigns, named NBC’s second staffer on Capitol Hill.

--Jim Miklaszewski will move from the Pentagon to the White House beat, backing up Cochran, with Sandy Gilmour also assigned there.

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--John Dancy will move from the Senate to succeed Cochran at the State Department, with Henry Champ, just returned from London, going to the Pentagon. Fred Francis will remain NBC’s chief correspondent there.

--Bob Kur, who has been covering the House, will become a national correspondent.

--Boston-based Lisa Myers will move to Washington with two jobs--diplomatic correspondent and a new beat, the government’s anti-drug efforts.

--New York-based Tom Petit, a veteran correspondent who several years ago rose to and then stepped away from life in the corporate lane as an NBC News executive vice president, will get a newly created post here, covering what the network described as “poverty and the underclass.”

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