Now, a little more on that new Howard Kurtz book on the anchor battles over egos and ratings. Rachel Sklar at the Huffington Horror House has more dish from Kurtz’s book. "Despite the careful seeding of info, the book itself still remains under wraps, but from the amount we've surveyed (about 7,500 words) it looks to be a thoroughly engrossing, engaging and more than occasionally juicy read." She summarized:
However effective Couric was in the morning, her partner Matt Lauer privately had doubts about how she would do in the 6:30 timeslot — and said so, telling a friend that he didn't think the evening newscast played to Couric's strengths. Oops. Now that's in a book.
Before the ABC anchor chair was assigned, Diane Sawyer and Charlie Gibson were in constant contact about it, offering each other the position and volunteering to back off. It was decided that Charlie would take it — and then Sawyer had the idea to do the newscast together, like the partners they'd been for eight years. Sawyer was filled with enthusiasm. Gibson wasn't into it.
Sklar also offered actual excerpts from the Kurtz book, such as:
The Real Reason Diane Sawyer Turned Down The Anchor Chair: Katie
It had been clear for some time that Couric was headed to CBS to take over Dan Rather's old job. If Sawyer were to take the plunge as the second woman to be the solo anchor of a nightly newscast, she realized, all the press coverage would be about dueling divas. Never mind that they knew each other only slightly. It would be like that New York magazine cover every day, a relentless focus on what they were wearing and similar trivia. It would be like every movie that featured two women battling it out. Women made great copy, that was the way the popular culture worked... She did not want her evening news tenure to be viewed through that prism. If she went to Darfur, the stories would be all about how she was trying to demonstrate that she was more interested in the plight of refugees than Couric was. She would be cast in a catfight. Couric would be the featured player and her role would be to juice up the story. No matter what she did journalistically, everyone would suspect her motives. No, it just wouldn't work. This was Katie's moment. Sawyer would not thrust herself into that particular spotlight....
"Good Night And Bite Me": Katie Couric's Big Mouth, Fracturing Team
Everyone at CBS, it seemed, was buzzing about Couric's exceedingly candid interview with Esquire. . She said she hated the word panties. She said that sometimes she barely remembered to put on deodorant. She said she had a perfect life until she turned 40, when Jay died. She said she was open to love but that it was difficult at 49 with two kids and a very public life. She said there were a lot of "circling vultures" out there ready to eat her alive. She said she played the piano and cried when she was depressed.
Couric also complained about Esquire's editors having said in a cheeky column called "Obscure Women We Love" that they no longer felt they knew the anchor. Her response: "You don't know me any more? Bite me." For days, CBS reporters and producers, at the slightest provocation, walked around inviting a biting from each other. One jokingly wondered whether the official motto of CBS News had gone from "Good night and good luck," to "That's the way it is," to "Bite me." .....
Brian Williams Slides To Second (Blames Everyone Else)
[A]lthough Nightly had lost half a million viewers from the previous year--even more than Couric had shed, as CBS executives kept reminding reporters--Williams was convinced that none of it, not a tenth of a percentage point, was his fault... [W]hat was killing the newscast, he thought, were the budget cuts at the network's ten O-and-Os, or owned-and-operated stations. At every station he visited, he could still smell the gunpowder from people being shot... All these cutbacks, Williams believed, were slicing into his lead-in audience in the major markets in a way that coincided with his ratings slide, as if someone had flipped a switch. Local executives at these stations kept asking him to fix his newscast, but Nightly, in his view, was not the problem.
Williams took his case to Jeff Zucker. "These cuts are killing me," he said. He also appealed to Jeff Immelt at GE.
"You're the most important single asset to the company," Immelt assured him. It was nice to know that he was even more vital than lightbulbs, Williams thought, but that didn't make the problem go away. Immelt and Zucker both said they would look into the matter, but Williams was not optimistic.
Williams thought Nightly was as good as ever, but this was really starting to sting. The horse-race coverage was maddening, especially since most television writers never bothered weighing the merits of the newscasts. It was always numbers, just numbers.
And for Williams, the numbers were personal. The ratings slide was being hung like an albatross around his neck. Every news story on the subject began, "Williams has lost X hundreds of thousands of viewers..." Did people actually believe that he had been on top for two years and suddenly became an awful, unwatchable presence?
Hmm. Did Williams ever ponder that this unfair scenario was an albatross he hung around President Bush's neck routinely? That Hurricane Katrina suffering was all Bush's fault, and his failure to take responsibility only underlined his lack of a common touch?
By the way, in his weekly Washington Post chat, Kurtz argued that Katie Couric can do more than the air-kiss interview with Hillary Clinton:
Katie vs. CEOs: Do you agree that the executives at GE and other companies are very nervous about anchors like Katie Couric looking too liberal? Or was it less about ideology and more about not being too confrontational with the people currently in power? I don't think Katie's ever interviewed Hillary the way she interviews Condoleezza...
Howard Kurtz: In fact, Couric did a reasonably aggressive interview with Hillary Clinton (along with Charlie and Brian) on the day that she announced her candidacy. I don't know the extent to which corporate executives were nervous about Katie looking either liberal or overly confrontational. But I can report that she certainly felt they were. [Emphasis mine.]
Brent Baker didn't exactly agree at the time.