'60 Minutes' Jacko Saga    | L.A. Reid   This and That

'60 Minutes' Producer Hewitt: Times Won't Print His Letter

Don Hewitt, the respected executive producer of CBS' "60 Minutes," is hopping mad at the New York Times. They won't print his letter to the editor regarding the Times' assertion that CBS paid Michael Jackson $1 million for his interview.

I ran into Hewitt and his wife, Times writer Marilyn Berger, at the lavish party TNT threw at the legendary Four Seasons restaurant for their remake of "The Goodbye Girl." Hewitt told me a letter he sent to Times editor Bill Keller was rejected for publication, despite the Times having run a story by Sharon Waxman claiming that Hewitt's show participated in checkbook journalism to get an interview with Jackson.

I told you in this column that Waxman was wrong, and CBS has since denied paying Jackson $1 million so he would sit down with Ed Bradley.

Hewitt, of course, is outraged. "I guess they don't print a letter to the editor if you write it to the editor," he told me.

In his letter to Keller, Hewitt wrote: "How could a newspaper that prides itself on publishing 'news that's fit to print' allow an anonymous and admittedly disgruntled source with an axe to grind put damaging and utterly false words in the mouth of a journalist as respected as Ed Bradley? Is it not a violation of journalistic ethics to publish an unsubstantiated story about anyone (let alone a fellow journalist of the stature of Ed Bradley) without getting corroboration that he actually said what you quoted him as saying?"

Hewitt asks Keller "to stop insisting that what you published on Dec. 31, 2003 about Ed Bradley and Michael Jackson was fair and balanced — which it most certainly was not."

Hewitt told me last night that he is still convinced that no payment was made by CBS to Jackson, and that he questioned Les Moonves about it. "Les said no, and I believe him," Hewitt said.

Catherine Mathis, the Times' press rep, had no response from Bill Keller.

As for Hewitt, he wants everyone to know that he has "a contract that runs forever" and has no intention of retiring. In fact, he's moving into what he says is the biggest office in the CBS building, previously occupied by Bryant Gumbel. And this Sunday, to avoid being trampled by football in the ratings (games on Fox, 'natch), Hewitt will run a spiffed-up rerun of its 35th anniversary show.

"We're hot right now in the ratings," he said, "and I don't want any setbacks. But you can't win against football."

Or, evidently, the New York Times.

Arista Records Chief Gets the (Gucci) Boot

Antonio "L.A." Reid (search) learned a lot during his 8-week summer course at Harvard Business School. But that austere organization couldn't make him have hit records. And that's why he got the boot yesterday from his job as head of Arista Records.

True, Reid, who wore gorgeous Brioni suits and shopped at Gucci, struck gold a couple of times in four years. He had a big success with OutKast, and another with Avril Lavigne.

But he couldn't sell new albums by Dido, Aretha Franklin or Pink. His one Babyface album was a bust. Santana was a disappointment under his regime. Whitney Houston cost upward of $20 million and it was all lost, like confetti in the wind.

Of course, Reid came into Arista under the worst circumstances, succeeding Clive Davis after 25 glorious years. The press was mean to him — myself included — but he played into it.

Reid was chosen for the job by Strauss Zelnick, who stuck by him but eventually got fired along with Michael Dornemann for being dumb enough to toy around with Davis. And we all know what happened next. Davis came back, started J Records, and has had hit after hit.

The rumor now is that Reid will wind up at the new Warner Records or at Universal Music Group. But the rumors are rampant now in the business, since major layoffs of executives are imminent, thanks to the mergers. At risk are Elektra's Sylvia Rhone, Atlantic's Val Azzoli and Craig Kallman and Warner's Roger Ames.

Over at Universal, the big question is what will happen to Lyor Cohen. Will he stay, or move to Warner? And will Universal pay out $50 million to TVT Records to resolve the judgment against them caused by Cohen? I'm told they will.

Is this mess in the record industry all because of downloading? In a word: No. It's about radio being run by a monopoly, and A&R guys and gals who refuse to sign new talent with lasting futures. It's about rap and hip-hop junk, and sampling replacing actual composition. Ironically, Reid's greatest contribution to music — OutKast — is a keeper, an act with a career. But it was his reliance on the little stuff — Blu Cantrell, etc — that brought him down. And it will likely do the same to many of his colleagues.

This and That ...

Thanks to my pals at the New York Post's "Page Six" for giving us a plug today. Isn't it interesting the most influential gossip column can give credit while the minor ones around the world don't? ... Yes, that was Paula Prentiss with husband Richard Benjamin, the director of "The Goodbye Girl," at the above mentioned premiere. While Hootie and the Blowfish played, I got to meet this famous Hollywood couple — married 41 years with two attractive children. Rent "Goodbye Columbus" if you want to see the young Benjamin and "Where the Girls Are" for Paula in their early days ... Alicia Keys has returned a Baldwin piano to the Gibson/Baldwin showroom on West 54th St. in very poor condition. The laminate along the underside of the keyboard cover is also ripped to shreds. That girl gave that instrument some work out! ... Oscar ballots are due back by Saturday, even though the Brits are just getting theirs re-mailed to them. The big five seem to be "Cold Mountain," "Lord of the Rings," "Lost in Translation," and "Mystic River," with the fifth slot a toss up between "Seabiscuit," "Master and Commander," and "Big Fish." Me, I'm partial to the latter. The only cinch? Renee Zellweger's performance in "Cold Mountain." This is what they call a slam dunk!