The first national breast-beating about Katie Couric leaving the anchor desk and potentially un-diversifying the anchor corps has come from Time TV writer James Poniewozik, who demands that the networks enshrine diversity. "Am I calling on the networks to act in the name of mere cosmetic appearance? Yes! News anchors are -- more than any profession outside of car-show modeling -- about cosmetic appearance." (Unlike Time, apparently, who picked top editor Richard Stengel in 2006, a disappointing "white dude.") Poniewozik lamented that just as the diversity in the Democratic campaign looks like 2060, the networks are headed back to 1960:
If one side of the debate stage is Star Trek, however, the question-asking side looks like Dragnet. In the Democratic debates, Obama and Hillary Clinton have taken questions from Charles Gibson, Brian Williams, Tim Russert, Wolf Blitzer--white guy, white guy, white guy, white guy.
Now the white-male preserve of TV anchoring may get yet white-maler. Katie Couric, whose CBS Evening News remains in deep third place, reportedly may leave after the presidential Inauguration or sooner. Should Hillary pull the election out, the first female President could be sworn in just in time to say goodbye to the first solo female anchor.
Poniewozik laments that CBS is hoping to blame "society" for Couric’s failure while they look like brave pioneers. He doesn’t criticize PBS for picking the wrong woman for the job, someone who on the gravitas scale projects less Madeleine Albright and more Kathie Lee Gifford. Then he hits the virtual picket line:
P.C. alert! Am I calling on the networks to act in the name of mere cosmetic appearance? Yes! News anchors are -- more than any profession outside of car-show modeling -- about cosmetic appearance. Yes, they need news chops, but they are hired, foremost, literally to be the face of a news division. Diversity is no more superficial a goal than gravitas, which apparently derives from the Latin for "white dude."
There are journalistic reasons to make this call too. Race and gender are real campaign issues--and white men have every right to cover them--but the networks have been practically handicapped by their makeup. If they were not largely fronted by white men, they would have been less vulnerable to the uncomfortable images of the media's boys ganging up on Hillary in the earlier debates or of largely white TV personalities piling on Obama about Jeremiah Wright in the much trashed ABC debate and before. Finally, there are solid business reasons. If TV news has any hope of finding another generation of viewers, hiring staff who reflect younger viewers' reality is relevant.
It’s a complete straw man to argue that everyone else has to have a white-male anchor to feel their gravitas quotient has been fulfilled. CBS could certainly replace Couric with a woman with less gums and giggle, or go in the Obama direction and hire a black anchor like Russ Mitchell or NBC’s Lester Holt. But it’s certainly painful to watch white-guy liberal writers beat up on white guys as yesterday’s news. Step aside, then, Captain Self-Loathing, go back to Salon.com, and let Eric Deggans or some other liberal who doesn't look like you write on TV for Time.