Richard Leibner, Saavy Agent for Top Broadcast Journalists, Dies at 85

Richard Leibner, a powerful agent whose firm brokered contracts for many of the biggest names in television news, including Dan Rather, Diane Sawyer, Anderson Cooper, Ed Bradley, Morley Safer and Steve Kroft, died on Tuesday at his home in Manhattan. He was 85.

His son Jonathan said the cause was kidney cancer.

Mr. Leibner’s firm, N.S. Bienstock — named for one of its founders, Nathan Bienstock — represented hundreds of anchors, reporters, producers and others in network and local television news.

The negotiation that grabbed the biggest headlines was for Mr. Rather, then one of the star correspondents of the CBS News program “60 Minutes.”

Between late 1979 and early 1980, Mr. Leibner (pronounced LEEB-ner) parlayed interest in Mr. Rather as the evening anchor from all three network news divisions: ABC News, whose president, Roone Arledge, was trying to raise his third-place division’s profile; NBC News, where the evening anchor John Chancellor was hoping to change to a commentary role; and CBS News, where Walter Cronkite had been the evening anchor since 1962.

“The Rather situation was tough and sensitive because CBS News knew something had to happen after Cronkite,” Mr. Leibner told Manhattan, inc. magazine in 1986. “Cronkite had told them, contrary to what anybody had ever inferred, that he wanted off. He was tired of it.”

Mr. Leibner surprised Mr. Rather by telling him that he thought it was possible to get him as much as $6 million over five years. In the end, CBS agreed to pay him what has been variously reported as $2.2 million a year and $8 million over five years. He succeeded Mr. Cronkite on the “CBS Evening News” in early 1981.

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