ABC Producer Tapped As CBS Bureau Chief

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 12, 2007

CBS News has landed a new Washington bureau chief by raiding the competition.

People familiar with the situation said yesterday that Christopher Isham, ABC's chief of investigative projects, has accepted the job and that an announcement is planned soon. Isham succeeds Janet Leissner, who asked for a reassignment several months ago and will assume a consulting role at CBS, with an emphasis on politics. Spokesmen for both networks would not comment.

Isham was recruited through what has become an alumni association at CBS. Paul Friedman, a CBS senior vice president, and Rick Kaplan, executive producer of the "CBS Evening News," are both ABC veterans who encouraged Isham to take the job.

Isham, 52, will be the latest member of a new management team trying to boost Katie Couric's newscast out of the ratings cellar. ABC tried to keep Isham from defecting but had no comparable management position to offer him.

CBS's choice suggests the network wants a different kind of bureau chief, one with a deep Rolodex and a natural instinct for tackling tough stories. But some at the network are questioning the decision to bring in a producer from another network with no Washington experience on the eve of a high-interest presidential campaign.

An ABC producer since 1978, Isham helped build the award-winning investigative unit under correspondent Brian Ross, which last fall broke the story of then-congressman Mark Foley sending sexually explicit messages to male House pages. The story led to Foley's resignation.

Isham has overseen reporting that disclosed lax security at U.S. ports, flaws in the federal air marshal program, sexual abuse at the United Nations and insurance fraud after Hurricane Katrina. Isham was heavily involved in the Monica Lewinsky investigation, and he is competitive: In 1998, he co-authored a memo complaining that CBS was labeling as "exclusive" stories about the scandal that he and his colleague had already reported.

Perhaps his most noteworthy achievement was setting up an ABC interview in 1998 with a little-known terrorist: Osama bin Laden.

A Yale graduate and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, Isham spent part of his childhood in Washington. His father, a Foreign Service officer, also moved the family to Moscow, Hong Kong, Paris and Haiti.

Leissner, who took over the bureau eight years ago, said: "This is the greatest job I've ever had. It's been an honor, and I look forward to a continuing relationship with CBS News."

Veteran correspondent Bob Schieffer said that Leissner "was just the heart of the bureau. No one is more beloved here."

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