I hate writing this post. Or more accurately, it makes me sad that speculation about Katie Couric‘s tenure at as anchor of the CBS Evening News is one of the hot topics in the news these days.
If you haven’t heard the story by now, Couric, her agent, the president of CBS news and the chairman of CBS met in late February and discussed Couric’s future at the network. The CBS Evening News‘ ratings were low when she got there, and her presence and performance have not had the desired effect of elevating them. Consequently, her tenure at CBS — already referred to as "the Katie experiment" — is not really expected to last much longer than the 2008 presidential election. Sigh.
Now, I’ll acknowledge up front that I have a lot of respect for Katie Couric, and I’ve been pulling for her from day one. I’ll also sheepishly admit that I don’t watch the CBS Evening News. (I work too late to catch it live. But if I did watch any evening news broadcast, it would be hers! I swear. Really.)
Regardless, I understand that many people thought Couric was too "perky" and the wrong woman to be the first to independently anchor a U.S. evening news show, and I’m not going to argue with anyone who holds or held this position. Because it’s too late for that. The die is cast. Whether or not you would have picked her, she got picked. And it’s her success or failure — and frankly, it’s looking a lot more like failure these days — that’s going to affect the opportunities that other women journalists and newscasters have.
And, frankly, this just sucks. Dan Rather‘s ratings trailed behind Peter Jennings’ and Tom Brokaw’s, and Bob Schieffer didn’t break any ratings records, but their ratings didn’t suggest anything about the viability of male journalists. But as other bloggers have noted before, women in traditionally male fields are held to a higher standard and evaluated differently. Remember that bizarre CNN promo when Paula Zahn joined the morning show?
The one that asked, "Where can you find a morning news anchor who’s provocative, super-smart (and) oh, yeah, just a little sexy?" And was accompanied by what sounded like a zipper? (Jon Stewart did great coverage of this on The Daily Show.) Additionally, male anchors don’t get covered in the Life and Style section of major newspapers via headlines such as "Why do all female newscasters look like 80s throwbacks?"
As AfterEllen.com blogger Roc noted last spring, Katie Couric has been challenged to maintain an arguably impossible balance of proving she’s got the goods without being too nice or too mean. Which is a little harder than just showing up and doing her job.
Apart from hoping that things turn around for her at CBS News, I guess the best I can hope for is that Couric’s inability to raise the ratings will be seen as reflective of the general trend of waning interest in network news, as much as it is seen as a failure of "the Katie experiment." And I can hope that she’ll end up in another job that’s challenging and groundbreaking.
One speculation, by the way, is that she’ll replace Larry King at CNN. But his rep says, "Larry is going to be here for a long time." Feeding this speculation is the idea that Couric’s alleged departure to CNN would bring Anderson Cooper to CBS to take over the anchor desk — which, I suppose, could be groundbreaking in a whole new way.