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PBS news programs awarded six Emmys

Times Staff Writer

PBS beat out the commercial network competition at the 26th annual News and Documentary Emmy Awards, racking up six honors for programs that explored the role women are playing in rebuilding Rwanda and the tactics of the credit card industry, among other topics.

ABC, CBS and NBC followed, each winning four Emmys. The Monday night awards ceremony, hosted by the National Television Academy at a Times Square hotel a day after the prime-time Emmy Awards were handed out, drew a black-tie audience of about 1,000 broadcast journalists and network executives.

The award for best story in a regularly scheduled newscast went to ABC’s “World News Tonight With Peter Jennings” for a piece about the state of affairs in Iraq one year after the U.S. invasion.

An NBC “Dateline” story about Cambodia’s child sex trade was named best newsmagazine report, while HBO won best documentary for “My Flesh and Blood,” which centered on a single mother in Fairfield, Calif., raising 11 adopted special-needs children.

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A large share of the awards program was devoted to honoring lifetime achievement awardee Sheila Nevins, president of HBO Documentary and Family, and former CBS News anchor Dan Rather, who received a special tribute.

Nevins was touted by, among others, actress Mary Tyler Moore, who called her “a singular creative force in what may be called high-impact television.”

Rather drew accolades from a variety of colleagues, including ABC anchor Ted Koppel, who described him as “the prototype of the television correspondent who must be where the story is.”

The special tribute -- coming just over a year after Rather broadcast a controversial report on “60 Minutes Wednesday” about President Bush’s service in the National Guard -- served as a belated public appreciation for the longtime anchor, who retired from the “CBS Evening News” in March.

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Before he left, an independent panel commissioned by CBS determined that the documents Rather and his producers relied upon for the National Guard story could not be authenticated. In the wake of the controversy, the network apologized for the story, a producer was fired and three executives were forced to resign. Rather has remained at CBS as a correspondent for “60 Minutes.”

On Monday, the veteran newsman, his voice breaking at times, thanked his colleagues for their “overly generous words,” adding, “I’m proud to stand with you, and don’t forget, don’t forget -- yours, ours, is noble work, and never has our country needed it more.”

On Sunday night, Rather was honored at the prime-time Emmys in Los Angeles, along with former NBC anchor Tom Brokaw and the late ABC anchor Jennings.

Earlier Monday, during a panel discussion at Fordham University School of Law hosted by the television academy, Rather delivered a strongly worded critique of the state of television news, saying that politicians and corporate interests have cowed much of the media.

“Fear runs stronger in every American newsroom -- and I mean every American newsroom -- now than any time that I’m aware of in my career,” he said. Politicians “have learned that the press indeed can be intimidated,” and corporate owners have placed profits over the public good, he added.

Rather -- who became teary several times during the hourlong session -- said the current climate contrasts sharply with his early days as a reporter covering the Nixon White House, when, he said, the news division and CBS corporate leaders had “courage.”

“There was a sense at that time, ‘Listen, we go into these stories together, we stick together through the story and we come out the other end of it together,’ ” he said. “It was not a code in any newsroom that I knew of worthy of the name, certainly not at CBS, where you begin to cut each other loose.”

Still, he said he remains optimistic about the future of television news, adding that his spirits were buoyed by the coverage of Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath.

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