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Media Notes: Howard Kurtz on CBS 'Early Show' Co-Host Maggie Rodriguez

But when Rodriguez called to book CutiƩ, she told him: "Because I know you, I can't softball you. I may have to be even harder on you." Rodriguez did an aggressive interview, telling CutiƩ: "The fact remains that you were on a public beach engaging in this behavior with this woman. Even people who support your breaking the celibacy promise think that what you did is completely inappropriate."

Although the University of Miami graduate is more comfortable speaking English than Spanish, her heritage has clearly helped her career. Rodriguez has never been to Cuba, out of respect for her parents, who fled the island in 1961 after her father was involved in planning for the abortive Bay of Pigs invasion.

She started as a producer at a Univision cable station in Miami, carrying her own camera gear when she got a shot at reporting. Rodriguez moved to KABC in Los Angeles, working overnight and weekend shifts before rising to anchor. Then she returned home to anchor at the CBS affiliate in Miami, which hosted the Super Bowl in 2007. McManus, who is also president of CBS Sports, came to town that week and saw her do numerous live shots, which led to the courtship.

At the "Early Show," Rodriguez found that she liked the cooking and fashion segments as long as she could get her share of the hard-news stories. During last year's campaign, she interviewed Barack Obama and John McCain while anchoring from the National Council of La Raza conference in San Diego. She also interviewed Michelle Obama, and "we connected on a mom-to-mom level," Rodriguez says.

Zev Shalev, the "Early Show" executive producer, says Rodriguez "brings that morning-TV spark to the table. You get that she's a mother, that she's a Hispanic. She's got a real sense of identity."

While attending an all-girls Catholic high school, Rodriguez says, she had no Hispanic role model on television. These days, she says she is "proud" of Sonia Sotomayor but would not overlook her weak points in reporting on her Supreme Court nomination.

"My responsibility as a Latina on the national stage is to represent my community well, but also to bring it to the attention of news executives if there's a story that affects my community," Rodriguez says.

She doesn't prattle on about her personal life, but her 4-year-old daughter, Daniella, has appeared on the show. "She likes it a little too much," Rodriguez says.

Even as Smith, Chen and Rodriguez grow more comfortable after CBS's failed experiment with a four-anchor team, the program remains far behind its rivals. After the May sweeps, the "Early Show" boasted of a 5 percent increase in viewers, while "Today" dipped 3 percent and "Good Morning America" 4 percent. But the raw numbers tell a different story: "Today" drew 5.61 million viewers; "GMA" 4.45 million, and the "Early Show" 2.92 million.

"We're bucking decades of limited success. Of course it's frustrating," McManus admits. Shalev complains that "it's harder to get the attention I think we deserve."

Rodriguez insists she never looks at ratings. "I don't want to drive myself crazy," she says. "If we don't do well one particular morning, I don't want to analyze why that was."

Contracting Out

The lead story in The Washington Post's Health section last week, on why some people seem immune to AIDS, focused in part on a top physician at Massachusetts General Hospital.

The work of researcher Bruce Walker, who runs the hospital's Partners AIDS Research Center, was first spotlighted in the third and fourth paragraphs. The article ended with a dutiful disclosure that it was condensed from one that had run in Proto, the magazine of, yes, Massachusetts General Hospital.

What gives? Health Editor Frances Stead Sellers, who obtained the piece without charge, says Proto is "one of the best biomedical magazines," that the article was by an established freelancer and that she was transparent about the story's origin. "The cure for a perceived conflict is disclosure. . . . I felt with this piece I was bringing something very interesting to readers," she says.

The magazine is produced by Time Inc. Content Solutions, where spokeswoman Carrie Jones says the hospital gets to review all copy and "to bask in the reflected glory" of a high-quality publication.

Sellers, who had run an earlier piece from Proto, says early-retirement buyouts at The Post have cut the weekly section's full-time staff from four to none, forcing her to rely heavily on freelancers. "If I had a whole bundle of reporters, I wouldn't be thinking of doing this," she says.

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