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Pissing Match At CBS

When newly-promoted CBS News president Sean McManus gets around to chatting with Dan Rather about the fallout from his Bush National Guard story, we hope he uses more tact than Mike Wallace. According to sources inside the network, Wallace recently got into a shouting match with Rather after telling the disgraced journo he should have resigned over “Memogate”–while the two men were standing side-by-side at a urinal.

The argument erupted in a men’s room at CBS headquarters in New York, we hear, after Wallace sidled up to his whizzing 60 Minutes colleague of three decades and told him he had just confided to Katie Couric in a Today Show interview–scheduled to air this morning–that he thought Rather should have resigned when his underlings were canned for basing the National Guard story on what turned out to be phony documents.

“They were both standing at the urinals when Wallace casually mentioned what he had told Katie,” says the source. “There proceeded a twenty-minute shouting match in the bathroom” between Rather and the 87-year-old journalist.

Reached for comment, Wallace confirmed that a “discussion” had taken place–“I don’t remember whether it was in a men’s room,” he said–but called the notion that tempers flared “bullshit.”

“I said to Dan–and I told him that I said this to Katie–‘Did it never occur to you after the people who worked with you were fired that you might have resigned in sympathy with them?'” Wallace said. “And he replied, ‘Yes, it did occur to me.’ And we had a very pleasant, straightforward conversation about it.”

“Dan and I are friends,” Wallace continued, “and I figured, whatever I said to Katie Couric, if he were to see it on the air for the first time without having heard it from me, he would be upset. Therefore, I felt that it was important that I let Dan know what I had said. There were no fights–he’s a much younger and bigger and stronger man than I.”

Rather could not be reached for comment by press time, but one imagines he would have taken umbrage at Wallace’s remark–especially considering his old pal’s new habit of taking pot shots at him since he was forced to step down as anchor in March. (Reports that CBS kingpin Les Moonves has been wooing Couric as Rather’s replacement on the CBS Evening News when her NBC contract expires in May can’t have helped matters.)

In an interview with the New Yorker‘s Ken Auletta, Wallace called Rather “uptight and occasionally contrived” and said he didn’t find him “as satisfying to watch” as other network anchors. Not that the silver-haired newscaster is himself immune to journalistic failings–or buck-passing in the face of them. In a widely reported episode dramatized in The Insider, Wallace (portrayed by Christopher Plummer) sided with CBS execs in whitewashing a 60 Minutes exposé on tobacco company Brown & Williamson. (In his new autobiography, Between You and Me: A Memoir, Wallace places blame for the decision squarely on network honchos.) Perhaps Rather, who turns 74 today, and whose tarnished reputation hasn’t exactly been buffed by his buddy’s sniping, should think twice before inviting Wallace to his birthday party.

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