NEW YORK — CBS president Laurence A. Tisch said Wednesday that he thinks Walter Cronkite will remain at CBS News, even though the former anchorman has said he'll be free to work elsewhere in news next fall under his new contract with the network.
"We are having very friendly discussions with Mr. Cronkite," Tisch said. "They're going in the right direction, and I am sure that Mr. Cronkite will be a permanent fixture at CBS . . . at CBS News."
Cronkite, 71, has been with CBS since 1950 and was anchor of the "CBS Evening News" for 19 years until March, 1981, when he yielded the anchor chair to Dan Rather. He has since been paid $1 million annually under a contract in which he serves as a CBS consultant and as a special correspondent.
Last month, though, he said in an interview that his new 10-year contract that starts in November, while keeping him as a CBS consultant, doesn't continue his old job with CBS News. The contract pays him $150,000 annually.
Cronkite was re-elected to the CBS board of directors during the annual CBS stockholders meeting here Wednesday. He declined to discuss talks he had this week with CBS about his new contract. Nor would he comment on reports that he is being wooed by the Public Broadcasting Service, the new syndicated "USA Today" program that premieres in September and the new production company that ABC "Nightline" anchor Ted Koppel has just begun, or that he might work as spokesman for IBM.
Despite what Cronkite has said about his free-agent status after November, Tisch, in a brief sidewalk press conference after the CBS stockholders' meeting, emphasized his belief that the veteran newsman would remain in the fold.
"Whatever the little controversy . . . in the press, the (contract) discussions that are going on now are very friendly, and I think (the talks) will result on Mr. Cronkite remaining at CBS News," Tisch said.
During Wednesday's stockholder meeting at the Museum of Modern Art, Tisch also defended the high salaries paid to top CBS News stars such as Rather, who now earns $3 million annually and will earn $4 million in 1990.
Without specifying anyone, Tisch said that "the salaries in the news division are salaries commensurate with entertainment (salaries). They are much lower than salaries being paid to movie stars. But this is the star system and we are subject to the star system."
He also fielded questions on two controversial new books about CBS News--former CBS News president Edward Joyce's "Prime Times, Bad Times" and "Who Killed CBS?" by New York Times television reporter Peter J. Boyer, whom Tisch accused of "bias."
He has only read magazine excerpts of Joyce's book, Tisch said, and hasn't read the book by Boyer, a former Los Angeles Times reporter who three years ago was a media critic on the "CBS Morning News" for nine months.
"I don't think there's anything new in those books that hasn't appeared in the newspapers or magazines over the last year," Tisch said.
"I think there's something silly or wrong about having a correspondent for the New York Times covering the CBS television network who is simultaneously writing a book entitled 'Who Killed CBS?' There has to be bias in his reporting."
Boyer, in Philadelphia promoting his book, had a tart response: "Larry Tisch knows better than anyone how straight and objective the Times' coverage of CBS has been, and I would be interested in hearing a specific example to the contrary."