Katie soon to get the ax?
By Carey Roberts
Two years ago CBS News anchor Dan Rather used falsified documents in his ill-fated Texas National Guard story. For that miscue they ran him out of Dodge and took away his six-shooter. A mere 10 months after she took over, Katie Couric now faces a similar fate.
When Katie made her debut on September 5, over 13 million people tuned in. Now, she's lucky if she can pull in 6 million on a given night, leaving CBS News a distant third behind ABC's Charles Gibson and NBC's Brian Williams. "I've gone through a bit of a feeding frenzy and there's blood in the water and I've got some vulnerabilities," Couric admitted in a recent New York magazine interview.
Behind her glitzy $2.9 million set, things have turned grim. One producer confided that Couric is "going through hell." Recently Couric snapped when editor Jerry Cipriano used the word "sputum" in one story. Couric flew into a rage, repeatedly slapping Cipriano on the arm. (Isn't there supposed to be a law against that sort of thing?)
To hear it from Katie, lingering sexism is to blame for her poor showing. "I'm sure there is a percentage of the population that for whatever reason may not feel completely comfortable with a woman in a heretofore male-dominated role," she ominously warns.
But that pat answer doesn't account for the fact that her most vocal critics are women like Alessandra Stanley of the New York Times and TV writer Gail Shister. And recently Myrna Blyth wrote a caustic piece deriding her as "Princess Katie."
Couric's biggest mistake was her straight-arming of white males over 40, the demographic that represents the backbone of the evening news. These guys didn't warm to Katie opening the show with a breezy, "Hi, everyone." And I doubt many were impressed by the baby pictures of Suri Cruise.
And given Couric's well-known embrace of all things feminist, her male viewers had good reason for concern. Over the years she has done ideologically-tinged features on the gender wage gap, domestic violence, as well as singing hosannas for Hillary Clinton.
In a 1997 interview of Nicole Contos, the jilted bride of Tasos Michael, Couric asked, "Have you considered castration as an option?"
Looks like the real sexism lies on the other side of the TV screen.
But the truth is, Katie likes to have it both ways. First she flaunts her legs on camera and allows her cutey-pie picture to be plastered on every New York City bus. But when her ratings take a nose-dive, she tries to blame it on those Neanderthal men who objectify women.
Then there's the matter of her $15 million salary, which CBS was able to afford only by taking a sizeable whack from the paychecks of Ed Bradley, Morley Safer, and Lesley Stahl. Couric is disingenuous when she claims that she didn't expect her budget-busting paycheck would become an issue with the other CBS staff members who can't afford their own 5-person entourage.
When Couric went to Amman, Jordan last November, hairdresser Mela Murphy was informed she would be traveling with the unwashed masses, rather than sitting in first class with Katie. Murphy flew into a rage and made it known that the CBS producers were "lucky to have their jobs."
There's little doubt that Couric revels in her celebrity status. Tune in to CBS's 60 Minutes, there's Katie. Walk through the airport, and Katie is reminding us to get a colon check. Pass through the check-out line, the gossip rags are taking bets on Katie's latest heart-throb. And go to the bookstore to buy a woman's magazine, more Katie!
So while Couric was the effervescent host of NBC's Today, she is out of her league as a news anchor. CBS News president Sean McManus agrees: "A lot of things that made Katie successful in the morning probably don't work in the evening news broadcast."
Katie lacks the gravitas (remember the on-air colonoscopy?), ability to connect with her audience, and hard-news experience. Viewers want to see solid reporting, not America's Sweetheart chasing an exclusive with a lip-glossed celebrity.
Even Katie realizes the whole thing may have been a terrible mistake. When asked if she would have taken the job if she had known it was going to turn out this way, Couric admits, "It would have been less appealing to me. It would have required a lot more thought."
So while CBS engineers her graceful exit and scales back that bloated salary package, the question remains, what will be the verdict of the guys who were treated so shabbily by Katie Couric? Can they ever be convinced to return to CBS News?
Carey Roberts is a Staff Writer for The New Media Alliance. The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets.