Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Couric's Do

Katie Couric is an outstanding talent and journalist. She is also courageous. These facts are immutable.

In May 2006 Katie gave up her co-anchor position on the Today Show, a position she successfully held for fifteen years. She wanted to try something different. She also had important personal reasons for wanting a change; she is a single mother raising two young daughters.

Katie chose an opportunity to anchor the CBS Evening News, the flagship newscast for America's most storied broadcast news organization. Katie would be the first woman to solo anchor a network evening newscast. This was a truly historic move.

But from the moment she arrived there were issues. CBS News had a long and rich tradition of growing anchors. It had been through a very difficult decade of budget cuts and internal turbulence. And CBS News also had a rigorous organizational culture, an abundance of ambitious employees and an enormously loyal audience. This was a most difficult transition to execute.

The ratings for all evening newscasts had been declining precipitously over the past decade, so it was time for a change. But CBS News may have changed the broadcast too dramatically. Since people who watch the evening news actually want to watch the evening news, many rejected these changes as non-traditional. Some of them defected to NBC or ABC. Expectations were poorly managed.

Today the CBS Evening News is as good as its competition. Its political coverage this election was very strong and most informative. Katie's interviews with Governor Sarah Palin may have been the most decisive event in a truly historic election. Critics, politicians and viewers all praised Katie for her smart and thoughtful questioning of Governor Palin. Katie "has hit her stride" reported most accounts.

For months CBS executives complained that some viewers and some press could not accept a woman as a national anchor. Charges of misogyny flew, but I couldn't believe them. Yet today's New York Daily News had a story about Katie's new hairstyle which she first wore Monday night. It was picked up by other national publications. There were even several Internet polls on how people liked Katie's new do.

Isn't it sad, that on a day when India is struggling with the aftermath of a despicable terrorist attack and America is reeling through a depressing recession, CBS News anchor Katie Couric's new hairstyle would create such a national stir.

I guess I was wrong. Women are still viewed differently.

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