The Washington Post might like to be known as rough and tough, skeptical and questioning, but when it comes to TV news stars, sometimes they sound like a publicist's best friend. Tuesday's big Style profile on Katie Couric is headlined "Up Close and Too Personal: Katie Couric, Center of Attention, Says She Just Wants to Do Her Job." For an article on how Katie is overscrutinized, it's funny how nowhere in the article did media reporter Howard Kurtz ever question whether she's fair and balanced in her journalism. It began with syrup:
She is already the most heavily scrutinized, psychoanalyzed and gossiped-about anchor in network history, and she hasn't yet uttered a single "good evening" on a CBS newscast.
Katie Couric's wardrobe has been analyzed by the Wall Street Journal, her makeup assailed in USA Today, her dating life examined by Parade magazine, her fitness for nightly news duty debated by columnists, cable combatants, bloggers and bloviators.
If Howard Kurtz is going to imply that Jacquelyn Mitchard's my-girl-Katie article in Parade magazine is brutal scrutiny, then there's almost no need to read further. But Kurtz continued to blow Katie's horn to the point where some paragraphs needed asterisks to spot the hype:
Because Couric is both the first woman to serve as a solo nightly news anchor and a big-time celebrity, some are casting her debut as the biggest event of the fall television season. After 15 years as a popular morning personality at NBC, she is armed with some new ideas -- including a regular soapbox segment for advocates and activists-- to jazz up an evening news format that sometimes seems set in concrete.
First, Elizabeth Vargas has been a solo nightly news anchor at ABC for most for most of this calendar year. The only thing that kept this from somehow being a fact was ABC's duty to be nice to Bob Woodruff and assume he'd be a co-anchor any time soon after he was wounded on a story in Iraq. Beyond that, a pile of women have been regular solo anchors on the weekends over the years, including Maria Shriver at NBC and Carole Simpson at ABC. What is true is that Katie is the first woman to be named in a network press release as a solo anchor on weeknights.
As for Katie's debut being the biggest event of the season, that's pure hucksterism. No one outside Couric's friends and family are anticipating the new "CBS Evening News" the way people are clamoring for the new episodes of "Lost." And it's especially cloying for Kurtz to report Katie is somehow the source of all the new ideas about the newscast, including the "Free Speech" segment -- as if commentaries on network news are a brand-new idea. Again, Bob Schieffer commentaries are going to be just like anchorman-to-pasture commentaries by John Chancellor on NBC. And commentaries by activists has already been done on CBS -- ask Bill Bradley and Laura Ingraham. Regular Joe commentaries? "In Their Own Words" on NBC. There's nothing new under the sun here, unless you're writing publicity copy.
Just when you think it couldn't get worse, then Couric begins discussing how "people are sick of the lack of civil discourse" and they want the news to get outside the beltway and "hear from real people." For example, "On immigration, CBS says, CBS might interview a restaurant owner about illegal immigrants or a recent emigre from Guatemala."
There's one problem here: I've been studying immigration stories for weeks, and they're loaded with restaurant owners and recent immigrants. It's the politicians who are largely missing.
There's no focus on where Katie's contributed to a lack of civil discourse. There's talk about Katie balancing work and family, but none about Katie balancing conservatives and liberals. This is especially bizarre at CBS, where Kurtz is avoiding Rathergate like it never happened. (Another bow to the publicists.) Kurtz calls here " a crusader and fundraiser for cancer-related causes," but never asks if that might present a conflict of interest.
In short, in this article, the reporter is merely a stenographer to media power.