Now Here's the News

Expect ABC Sports to announce today that WJLA sports director Tim Brant will join the Keith Jackson-Lynn Swann team for the U.S. Football League weekend telecasts starting in March . . . probably working the sidelines and locker rooms during the games. . .

Brant has worked for ABC in the past and will appear on Wide World of Sports in two weeks, covering the Dream Mile. . .

At least one bureau chief called White House communications chief David Gergen on Friday to complain after all three networks went live that morning for one of President Reagan's impromptu press conferences and found, after five or six questions, they were covering a premature birthday party instead. . .

Mrs. Reagan walked into the briefing room with a cake, the press corps dutifully sang "Happy Birthday, Mr. President," but after several minutes of cake-cutting and chitchat, the networks pulled the plug and went back to regular programming . . . while reporters and executives muttered. . .

"I think we were had," sputtered one network spokesman Friday . . . "the White House turned it into a publicity stunt". . .

Two New York area cable systems and one in Texas helped themselves to transmissions of NBC's Super Bowl coverage the night of Jan. 30 . . . and the network is hot about it. . .

As a matter of fact . . . NBC plans to seek legal remedies for the infringement of its rights, including lawsuits and possible FCC action. . .

There may be additional systems involved, NBC believes. . .

All three systems so far identified are affiliated with the USA Cable Network . . . but NBC is careful to point out that USA Cable had nothing to do with the illegal use. . .

Background: as a courtesy to Home Box Office executives, who were meeting in Mexico the night of the game, NBC bounced a satellite transmission of the game south of the border . . .

The transponder used was one that usually is leased by USA Cable for its backup programming. . .

The night of Jan. 30 . . . USA's main broadcast was pro wrestling out of Madison Square Garden . . . which meant the area systems within a 75-mile radius of the matches would be blacked out. . .

Several weeks before the Super Bowl, USA Cable was told the alternate transponder already was leased to NBC for the Super Bowl. . .

So USA Cable wrote the New York-area systems to notify them that a backup telecast wouldn't be available that night as an alternative to the blacked-out wrestling. . .

Regardless, at least two of them used the Super Bowl signal and, according to NBC, at least one other system, in Texas, helped itself to the signal, wittingly or not (an NBC affiliate in the area taped the offending broadcast) . . .

In a statement Friday, NBC said the "NFL has informed us that it shares our concern about the misappropriation of the game signal and intends to cooperate fully". . .

Part 3 of "Shogun" on NBC Wednesday night had a 26 percent audience share, according to the national Nielsens . . . down three points from the opening-night audience. . . Moving Right Along

Federal Communications Commission chairman Mark Fowler has written a sharp letter to Rona Barrett, publisher of an expensive entertainment industry newsletter called The Barrett Report out of Beverly Hills, Calif. . . . complaining that an interview with him published in the Jan. 12 issue contained "substantial inaccuracies," "fabrication" and "the deliberate substitution of one idea in the place of another" in several portions of the text. . .

William Royce, editor of The Barrett Report, who conducted the interview, said Friday he already had published a correction in the Feb. 2 edition of the Report. . .

"It was my mistake," said Royce, "I am fully to blame". . .

The interview was brought to Fowler's attention late last month by Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America, which is lined up with producers in Hollywood who oppose a repeal of the Financial Interest and Syndication Rules, which the FCC currently is considering. . .

The repeal, worth millions to the three commercial networks, has drawn strong opposition from Hollywood interests who believe it only would strengthen what they consider to be a network monopoly. . .

In his Jan. 20 letter to Fowler, Valenti seized on an interview answer by Fowler that suggested networks ought to have the same freedom of action that newspapers do. . .

And, although Valenti didn't come right out and say it, it was obvious he thought the FCC chairman already had made up his mind and was going public on an issue that the commission had only begun to consider formally as of Jan. 26. . .

In his response to Valenti, Fowler pointed out that in one answer he had emphasized that commission members find "ourselves in the middle here. We're going to have to be the judicious, impartial judges, look at the record and then make a decision based upon what our best sense is of what the proper action should be. So, beyond that, I have no comments at this time. I want to be impartial, I want to look at the record and then make a decision". . .

He made clear that the garbled Report answer had been in response to questions about two other, separate issues that are of concern to the FCC . . . the Fairness Doctrine and the broadcast ownership rule that limits an operator to no more than seven TV stations. . .

Royce said Friday that Barrett, the former NBC and ABC media reporter, had not yet received the Fowler letter . . .

The chairman's office confirmed that it was only mailed Friday. . .

Royce explained that "an answer regarding the applicability of Mr. Fowler's deregulatory or marketplace approach was inadvertently excerpted from answers he gave to questions about the fairness and the ownership rule. . .

"In other words," said Royce, "in the published interview, it came out how does the marketplace approach apply to the Financial Interest Rule FIR and then I used the newspaper analogy. . .

"What happened inadvertently is that sections of the three questions were used . . . It was my mistake, I am fully to blame and I am in error". . .

Royce said he had not talked to Fowler but had been in contact with William Russell, FCC director of public affairs. . .

Royce said he also had called Valenti, who, according to the editor, said "he understood how an error could be made". . .

In the letter Fowler sent to Valenti, he matched his taped version of the interview with the words that appeared in the Report and spelled out major discrepancies . . . including instances where references to the FIR were substituted both in his replies and for the question actually asked. . .

Noting that Valenti's letter was included in the MPAA filings before the FCC on the FIR deregulation . . . Fowler wrote the MPAA president: "I am sincerely sorry that you have been misled in believing that The Barrett Report contained anything approaching an accurate reporting of my statements on the financial interest and syndication rules". . .

In his letter to Fowler, Valenti quoted Dr. Samuel Johnson's "when a man is about to be hanged, it does tend to concentrate the mind wonderfully". . .

In his response, Fowler suggested to Valenti, it ought to read: "when a man is about to be hanged, let's at least hope they get his last words right". . .

The weekly, eight-page Barrett Report, launched last year, costs subscribers $1,200 annually . . . On Friday, Royce declined to give circulation figures, saying they were "confidential". . .

Royce noted that previous interviews conducted for the Report with Ed Asner, the Rev. Jerry Falwell, Sen. Barry Goldwater and Ted Turner had been accurate. . . And Finally

Now that the dust has settled . . . ABC, CBS and NBC are estimating that together they lost a total of about $100 million in advertising revenues during the NFL strike last fall. . .

But since, in turn, the three networks didn't have to pay the NFL for seven weeks of game rights, the bottom-line loss was something less. . .