By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Couric’s low-key debut

It might seem sexist to note that Katie Couric showed some leg during her interview with New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman last night — except that the matter of whether the new “CBS Evening News” anchor would display or hide said legs has been the subject of endless speculation.

It might also seem sexist to observe that Couric was wearing too much makeup — except that Friedman, if anything, was wearing even more than she was.

Couric’s debut as the First Woman to Anchor a Network Evening Newscast Alone, Not Counting Women Who’ve Been Substitutes or Elizabeth Vargas After Bob Woodruff Was Hurt in Iraq, went smoothly enough. I think the Boston Globe’s Joanna Weiss got it just about right: no big deal, and the “Free Speech” segment (annoyingly rendered as “freeSpeech”) stunk.

It’s perhaps a tribute to Couric’s genuine skill as an anchor that the complaints today revolve not around her but her newscast. The New York Times’ Alessandra Stanley, unusually subdued, says that the program was, well, subdued; Stanley moves on to Rosie O’Donnell’s debut on “The View” as quickly as she can.

The Washington Post’s Tom Shales grouses that Couric anchored a “strange new show” that might be dubbed “The CBS Evening No-News.”

The Hollywood Reporter’s Barry Garron writes: “TV’s first solo woman anchor, it seems, will preside over a news-flavored broadcast that consists of one or two news pieces, a few headlines and a host of soft features.”

The newscast got off to a respectably hard-edged start, with Lara Logan reporting from Afghanistan on the resurgent Taliban; Jim Axelrod on President Bush’s latest speech (terrorism is bad, you know); and Couric’s interview with Friedman.

After that, though, it went downhill. Anthony Mason was supposed to report on a huge oil find in the Gulf of Mexico and what it might mean for gas prices. Instead, he focused mainly on the oil companies’ difficult year recovering from 2005’s devastating hurricanes. At least he managed to point out that Shell made a $25 billion profit after letting a Shell executive whine about the “hundreds of millions of dollars” his company had spent on clean-up and repairs.

The Morgan Spurlock “freeSpeech” segment was excruciating, and it’s going to get worse: Rush Limbaugh’s up on Thursday. Will “Couric & Co.,” as they’re calling themselves, invite anyone as far to the left as Limbaugh is to the right? Or will this become yet another outlet whereby a timid news organization counters phony charges of liberal bias by giving a platform to one conservative after another?

Following a vapid look at the Vanity Fair cover of Tom and Katie’s baby, the finish line in sight, things picked up a bit, with a nice Steve Hartman report on a Nicaraguan orphanage and a guy from Wisconsin who arranges for American high-school kids to paint portraits of orphans around the world.

Couric’s sign-off — a look at newscast closings both real and fictional, and a call for viewers to make suggestions on how she might sign off — was silly but harmless.

Overall, I thought Couric’s debut was fine. But far from revolutionizing the way news is delivered, this seems aimed primarily at holding the revolution off for a few more years.


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8 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    Has anyone else noticed this annoying habit Couric has of cocking her head? I watched last night, and it was driving me crazy. Her noggin is always tilting to one side as if the camera she’s looking at is crooked and she’s trying to compensate. Dan: Your lefty bias is showing when you write “…after letting a Shell executive whine about the ‘hundreds of millions of dollars’ his company had spent on clean-up and repairs.” Far be it for me to defend big oil, but the guy wasn’t “whining.” The reporter asked him how much it cost to repair the one rig that was hammered by the hurricane, and the Shell guy simply stated the number. You call that whining? Gimme a break.

  2. Anonymous

    Dan, I’m a little surprised at your tone.Granted, we all had very low expectations. But the fact that it failed to be even worse than we thought it could be doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be alarmed at what we’re seeing.As was pointed out by those you cited, this isn’t really a news broadcast anymore. That should anger and frighten us. Rush Limbaugh coming up this Thursday? That’s crazy. We should boycott CBS.

  3. Mike from Norwell

    Watched about 5 minutes out of curiousity, and then remembered why I don’t bother watching network news broadcasts anymore. At least with the Internet you can actually find out the back detail, rather than rely on a 30 second simplified snippet to portray a complex issue…Really thought it “great” listening to clips this morning that we will be treated to baby pictures of celebrities. Forget the Cape Wind project; just put a turbine over Ed Murrow’s gravesite.

  4. Stella

    Pablum…Redstone’s instincts have slowed substantially now that he’s in his dotage. The nonevent of yesterday evening and the subsequent “thousand cuts” certain to follow will further sink this once great news organization.

  5. Anonymous

    Odd that Couric would mention Limbaugh in virtually the same breath as her wish to restore civility to public discourse. Limbaugh civility–an oxynoron of titanic proportions.

  6. Anonymous

    “oxynoron”(sic), LOL!

  7. o-fish-l

    DanYou ask, “Will ‘Couric & Co.,’ as they’re calling themselves, invite anyone as far to the left as Limbaugh is to the right?”In the interest of equal time, why would they? A leader of the far left dominated the C-BS News from March 9, 1981 to March 9, 2005. His name, Dan Rather. His downfall, just two months before the 2004 Presidential election; attempting to use obviously forged documents in an effort to bring down the Republican President. CBS will need more than a 1 minute Limbaugh segment to restore their credibility with most moderates and conservatives.To refresh your memory, On September 20, CBS retracted the story. Rather stated, “if I knew then what I know now – I would not have gone ahead with the story as it was aired, and I certainly would not have used the documents in question.” “I’m sorry.”Conservatives, bloggers and even his media peers criticized Rather’s obvious liberal bias, including former CBS correspondent Bernie Goldberg (a moderate) and the noted liberal Andy Rooney.Dan, you lose credibility when you say charges of liberal bias against C-BS are false. Spare us.

  8. Don

    If she doesn’t get any better, soon her signoff will be “Goodbye forever.”

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