"The notion that you can't wear mascara and earrings and ask smart questions is passe"
The above quote from Katie Couric given to the Los Angeles Times is right on the mark. And when Couric greets the nation for the first time this month as the anchor and managing editor of the CBS evening news, she better bring her A-game. Because, in the now famous words chanted by hundreds of anti-war protesters in Chicago in 1968, "The whole world is watching."
And believe me, they are ready to pounce.
Couric isn't the first woman to sit at a major network's news desk. That distinction lies with Barbara Walters. What is different, though, is that Couric is taking this gig solo. (Walters shared the role with ABC co-anchor Harry Reasoner from 1976-1978.) And ever since Couric announced her departure, after more than 15 years on NBC's Today show, the claws have come out. Questions of Couric's ability to handle serious news after some seriously goofy antics and deliveries over the past few years aren't totally unwarranted, however. This is, after all, the woman who donned ridiculous Halloween costumes each year and was prone to uncontrollable giggling fits, quitting with just enough time to segue into the latest news on the warfront. Halloween costumes? I can't be positive, but I'm sure the network played a large part in those gimmicks. However, did they dress Couric in short skirts and force her to flash well-oiled gams tucked into a never-ending parade of stilettos each day? No, that was a personal choice. And it's choices like that that have her on the hot seat today. Fair? Maybe not. Expected? Absolutely.
The good news for Couric is that the days of Smucker's shout-outs and visits from lemur-trainers are gone. No more wedding gown fashion shows and culinary craziness with Emeril. This new gig is all news, all the time. And I think this will be a wonderful thing for you, Katie. Let's face it, as a Today personality, you were forced to be "one of us," and it didn't always fly. The day you looked straight into the camera and said you had to take out a loan to fill up your minivan, I nearly hurled my coffee mug at the TV screen. Honey, you make millions. You aren't sweating the prices at the pump like the rest of us (never mind the fact that you are picked up and driven to work each day in a chauffeured town car). But I digress.
I have a hell of a lot of respect for you, Katie. You've carved your place in what has traditionally been a man's world. You've worked everything from a Miami news desk to desk assistant at the ABC news bureau in Washington. You became an associate producer for CNN, and picked up an Emmy as a reporter for NBC's local station in D.C. You've gotten millions of Americans to consider their colons, for Pete's sake. You've worked hard, Katie, but the real work begins now.
And you've got some big wingtips to fill, no? Edward R. Murrow, Mike Wallace, Walter Cronkite, even Dan Rather. From now on, it's you against the perpetually tanned Brian Williams on NBC. This is a showdown, Katie. Are you ready?
I've been keeping an eye on some of the female newscasters across the wide world of cable news channels, and here are a few who get it right.
1. CNN's top war correspondent, Christiane Amanpour. Flawless delivery. Serious, tough, and fair. Nevertheless, she shows her sense of humor (or irony, which is most often the case) when the situation calls for it.
2. Soledad O'Brien, anchor of CNN's American Morning. She's right on target. Too bad she has to share the desk with the condescending likes of Miles O' Brien, who is thankfully, no relation.
3. Robin Meade, lead news anchor for Headline News' morning show, Robin & Company. Meade runs that show solo like a well-oiled machine. She's got the chops.
Keep an eye on these pros, Katie, and you'll do just fine. As often as I've been embarrassed for what you've had to do on the Today show in the past, I'm behind you now 100 percent. This new gig is what makes having to interview the man with the singing pig all worthwhile. It's up to you, now, so don't let us down.
One last warning, though. At the first hint of a Nancy Grace-style delivery, we are breaking up.