Couric's News: Clunky Segmentation; Asks 'Back to Drawing Board' in War on Terror?

The new CBS Evening News with Katie Couric showcased her over correspondents (in a change from Schieffer's day she handled the opening plugs for upcoming stories), spotlighted her legs (at the top of the show, as she sat with an interviewee and stood in front of the anchor desk at the end of the program) and marked the Early Show-ization of the evening newscast with stories crammed into gimmicky segment titles: “CBS News Briefing” (four stories in 40 seconds), “CBS News Snap Shot” (“exclusive” pictures of Suri Cruise which Couric giddily touted as “proof positive that yessiree, she does exist”) and a “freeSpeech” commentary in which filmmaker Morgan Spurlock railed against how the media paint Americans into extremist positions. Over new theme music, the voice of Walter Cronkite announced: "This is the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric."

On the political agenda front, Couric opened with a topic apart from Tuesday's events: Setbacks in Afghanistan as the new female anchor handed off to female correspondent Lara Logan: “In the War on Terror, you have to wonder: Is it back to the drawing board? It's easy to forget Afghanistan is where that war began, and that 21,000 U.S. servicemen and women are still there. Now, nearly five years after U.S. forces defeated the Taliban and scattered the al-Qaeda terrorists they were protecting, the Taliban and their terror tactics are back.” While ABC and NBC aired stories on President Bush's speech about the dedication of terrorists and the Democratic reaction, CBS ran a story on Bush's arguments and then countered them with Couric interviewing New York Times columnist Tom Friedman who mocked Bush: “He's saying we're in the fight of our life, that the World War III of our generation, but let's have a tax cut.” Friedman also lamented: “We're a country that is seen widely around the world as exporting fear and not hope."

Video of the opening to Tuesday's CBS Evening News (1:55): Real (3.3 MB), Windows Media (3.8 MB), plus MP3 audio (765 KB).

Couric ended her inaugural broadcast by saying she hadn't come up with a sign-off, and then played video of several, including Dan Rather's “courage,” the “Ted Baxter” character from the Mary Tyler Moore Show's “Saying goodnight and good news” and “Ron Burgundy” in the movie, Anchorman, “You stay classy San Diego.”

The MRC's Brad Wilmouth corrected the video against the closed-captioning to provide these transcripts of Couric's first night.

First, the opening of September 5 CBS Evening News, which Couric read while standing, and then appeared behind the anchor desk following Cronkite's intonation of the program name:
Couric: “I'm Katie Couric, tonight, it was the first front in the war on terror, and in Afghanistan now the Taliban are back with a vengeance. Lara Logan has an unprecedented encounter with al Qaeda's best friends. A gusher in the gulf. The biggest U.S. oil find in years, but does that mean you'll find cheaper prices at the pump? 'Free Speech.' Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, and we're giving folks a chance to express them right here.”

Norman Spurlock: “Nobody wants to hear what we have to say because we don't foam at the mouth, call your momma names or say anything that's gonna juice the ratings.”

Couric: “And in something we're calling 'Snap Shots,' Vanity Fair has the baby picture everyone has been waiting for. And tonight, so do we.”

Audio of Walter Cronkite: “This is the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric."

Katie Couric, at anchor desk: "Hi, everyone. I'm very happy to be with you tonight. For many Americans today, it was back to work and back to school. But in the War on Terror, you have to wonder: Is it back to the drawing board? It's easy to forget Afghanistan is where that war began, and that 21,000 U.S. servicemen and women are still there. Now, nearly five years after U.S. forces defeated the Taliban and scattered the al-Qaeda terrorists they were protecting, the Taliban and their terror tactics are back. This year, roadside bombings are up 30 percent, suicide bombings up 100 percent. More than 100 U.S. and NATO troops have been killed. In response, the allies have launched a counter-offensive against the Taliban, killing as many as 60 today alone. Our chief foreign correspondent, Lara Logan, had unprecedented access to some Taliban fighters in one of their new strongholds in Ghazni province. Here's her exclusive report."

Second, Couric's taped sit-down with Tom Friedman, which aired just after Jim Axelrod's look at Bush's speech on the War on Terrorism:
Couric: "Few people have written about the War on Terror as extensively as New York Times columnist Tom Friedman. I spoke to him a short time ago and asked him about the President's latest efforts to shore up support for the war."

Tom Friedman, New York Times columnist: "What is the President saying, Katie? He's saying we're in the fight of our life, that the World War III of our generation, but let's have a tax cut and shrink the size of our armed forces. We're in the fight of our life, Katie, but let's only send enough troops in Iraq to depose Saddam Hussein, but not enough to control the borders and really create a secure environment for democracy to flourish there. We've been summoned to D-Day, but not really given the moral, strategic, economic and political strategy to win D-Day at all."

Couric: "Meanwhile, we saw the Taliban is back in a big way and is once again a big threat. Things seem to be going well in Afghanistan. What happened? Why is it unraveling now?"

Friedman: "Well, you know, Katie, it's really a smaller version of the Iraq story, which is 'It's security, security, security.' What Lara Logan's piece really shows, where American forces are present in numbers, where they create a secure environment, good things flower. Where they're not present, bad things happen."

Couric: "Everyone, needless to say, is looking toward the fifth anniversary of September 11th. And everyone is asking this question: Are we safer now than we were? What do you think?"

Friedman: "Well, you know, in some ways, yes, in some ways, no. Obviously, we've done a lot more in this country to take seriously the threat at our borders, through immigration and whatnot, but at the same time, you know, one really weeps for that moment of solidarity in this country, after 9/11. You know, we, as a country, have always historically been in the business of exporting hope and not fear. And in the last few years, we've really reversed that. We're a country that is seen widely around the world as exporting fear and not hope."

Couric: "Is there any way to change that?"

Friedman: "And we've got to get back to that."

Couric: "But how do you do that?"

Friedman: "Well, you know, part of it, it really starts at the top. It really starts with the President and others. There's nothing wrong with highlighting the threats we face, but we've got to get back to that America, you know, that people look to as that kind of naive optimistic place as well."
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center