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.