On the night the New York tabloids shrieked that Katie Couric was kaput, I watched her on The CBS Evening News. I wonder how many others tuned in for the same reason, giving a boost to her continuously sagging ratings. The $15 million-a-year anchor remains deep in the cellar compared to her NBC and ABC rivals. For the week of March 31, Katie averaged 5.9 million viewers. Smooth Brian Williams on NBC was in top spot with 8.3 million viewers, while avuncular Charlie Gibson was next with 8 million.
While everyone debates what went wrong with Katie, it seems fairly obvious just from watching her show. She is lousy as an anchor, both bored and brittle, racing through the news with a staccato delivery, almost as if she can’t wait to get out of the place. I remember in the first weeks of the show, when the promotion for her was sky-high and she and the suits at CBS thought you could be cute on the evening news, she asked viewers to help her come up with a closing line. Someone suggested, “That’s it. Where’s the car?” That would be right on these days.
The only thing really interesting about her broadcast was her accessories. Why was she wearing a long string of pearls with her black suit and black tee earlier in the day when she interviewed General Petraeus at the new Newseum (an odd place for their meeting)? Then, on the broadcast, she was wearing a double string of pearls. Does a producer follow her with a jewelry case? I don’t remember what she asked Petraeus, but I liked the double strand much better. And, hey, that is part of the Katie Problem too. You focus too much on her, and she is so disappointing.
Of course a lot of columnists are asking: Is her problem that only middle-aged or old white guys are appealing to viewers on the evening broadcast? I don’t think so. There are lots of female anchors on local broadcasts all over the country. In a way, Katie and Hillary’s problems are the same. It is easy for people, including Elton John, to blame the trouble they are having on misogyny, to claim that Americans simply dislike women in powerful roles. But the trouble is that a lot of people just don’t like these particular women. Katie is a so-so newsreader and Hillary has run a miserable campaign.
Reports say that she, her agent, and CBS honchos discussed the Katie Problem at a recent meeting, and she was offered a stint on the The Early Show. She turned it down – she can already appear on a show with poor ratings, without having to get up at four in the morning. Another possibility was replacing Larry King when his contract expires, but CNN has said they will extend said contract.
Currently Katie’s biggest concern is trying to get to anchor a candidates’ debate. Everyone else but her, it seems, has done it. Some a couple of times.
A week ago CBS offered Hillary and Obama “prime real estate,” an hour after 60 Minutes on Sunday, April 27. Hillary accepted immediately, but Obama’s people are holding back. Not surprising, since Katie has been an outspoken Hillary-lover throughout her career. If it happens, Bob Schieffer will be moderating as well. Schieffer, who replaced Dan Rather in the interim before Katie, said he was going to retire next year. Now he says he’d like to hang around a bit more. Wonder why. CBS is hopeful that the debate will happen and Jerry Meek, head of the North Carolina Democratic Party, said he feels good about the possibilities.
Finally getting a debate won’t help Katie much, but it will be interesting. I wonder if she will wear the short pearls or the long.
– Myrna Blyth, long-time editor of Ladies Home Journal and founding editor of More, is author of Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness — and Liberalism — to the Women of America. Blyth is also an NRO contributor.