Katie Couric is sexy. I’ll give you all a moment to digest that.
Aaaaaaaand … scene.
I’m not kidding here. I find Miss Couric genuinely attractive and, to add to that, I think that is the primary stumbling block for her turn as anchor of the CBS Evening News. To understand where we are, we need to remember an important detail. From the beginning of news dispersion, from radio to the infancy of television to the Golden Age of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, this has been a patriarchy, a game run by men of age and experience with that commanding “Voice of God” presence. It is a role the networks have been only too happy to fill, even if the distinguished gentlemen taking the spotlight weren’t the most qualified to serve. They looked and sounded the part. That was enough.
In an effort to energize their sagging news division, CBS put their faith and a large amount of prestige behind Couric, going 180 degrees away from the standard. Since then it has been nothing less than a death-clock countdown to her stay there and, really, that is unfair. Yes, the viewership has moved to other networks and other anchors — male anchors who can wear the suit and sound appropriately authoritarian — but most of these viewers probably get the bulk of their news from old media anyhow. Network news and, in shockingly severe numbers, newspapers have been losing eyes to cable news outlets and the catch-as-catch-can speed of the Internet. The exodus from Couric, while partly due to this gender shock, is more about the waning relevance of these organizations.
Gender shock? Absolutely. Consider that while Couric is the newest element, the organization still consists of the writers and reporters that served under Bob Schieffer; some of them may have even been there during Dan Rather’s stay. How is it that the footsoldiers remain, yet there is such a perceived difference? Because those last viewer holdouts are hardwired to the old media and ways thereof, the bias persists. Perhaps it would have been different if it was the late 1970s. Not that we have to imagine too hard, because there was a definite possibility of the paradigm being, if not shifted, then severely nudged. Jessica Savitch found a home at NBC as the weekend anchor of their news broadcast after moving up the ranks of local outlets. This was during the tenure of two of broadcasting’s most venerable — John Chancellor and David Brinkley. Savitch was also attractive, but in an angular and somewhat stern way, possibly played up a bit to fit into this boys club rather than to tweak the standard too much.
She was getting a lot of buzz as a possible future solo anchor of the more prestigious weeknight spot, which would be a first. Women had been accepted as co-anchors on local news for many years but to be “the one” before the national broadcast would have been historic. There were three things that prevented this from happening, the first being those same biases we’ve previously discussed. Sure, Savitch had credibility and had appeal, but would America actually buy into the plan? This anxiety fed into the second hindrance — Savitch had, years before, a substance abuse problem, and it appeared to be creeping back into her life, both personally and professionally. On a prime-time “update” between programs on October 3, 1983 she slurred her statements, mangled the copy by not saying parts of it altogether, and it appeared those old demons had returned. Twenty days later, the ascending star was dead, drowned in the backseat of a car driven by friend and vice-president of the New York Post newspaper Martin Fischbein. Neither drugs nor intoxication played a role in the accident. History eluded Jessica Savitch.
With her appointment to the CBS Evening News, Couric succeeded where Savitch couldn’t. She became the first solo female anchor of the network national broadcast, yet those old prejudices hamper the victory. Reports have claimed, with equal intensity, that the directors of the news division stand behind her and, at the same time, her stay with the Tiffany Network is drawing to a close. Some will say that her perky, celebrity-driven personality, the personality that propelled NBC’s Today Show to the top of the morning show heap, is the problem which is preposterous. The Evening News is just that and not the variety and current events that morning TV consists of. Others will say that they tuned in for that Katie, the smiling, perky one, and found news like any other CBS Evening News airing, which is equally galling.
No, it seems that the last of the network watchers just aren’t able to process an attractive woman in that role, a concept that reduces the viewing public to little more than insecure high schoolers exorcising their adolescent Isms… But I’ll defend Couric, her right to sit in that chair, and her right to take that job. She has earned it through her work and some would rightly argue she is more emotionally stable than one of her predecessors who shall remain nameless (cough — “Kenneth”.)
Katie Couric is sexy. Grow up and deal with it.