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CBS: The Couric Broadcasting System By: Lowell Ponte
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, April 05, 2006


A few hours after this writing, Katie Couric is expected to announce she will depart NBC’s Today Show to anchor the CBS Evening News. Couric has co-hosted Today for 15 years as of today. According to TelevisionWeek Magazine, the ever-perky hostess will make her announcement during today’s broadcast, becoming become the first solo female anchor of a major network evening newscast.

In late 2004, with controversial Democrat-partisan CBS anchor Dan Rather on his career’s last legs following exposure of his use of fake documents to undermine President George W. Bush’s re-election, CBS Chairman Les Moonves was already courting Couric to take Rather’s place, using graying veteran Bob Schieffer as an “interim placeholder,” as J. Max Robins wrote in the December 2004 Broadcasting & Cable. (The current pundit gossip is that NBC is likely to tap the snooty co-host of The View Meredith Viera to replace Couric on Today.)

Couric is under contract to NBC until May 31, 2006 – the most lucrative contract of any news star, paying Couric $15 million per year, approximately double what Rather had been making.

In one fell swoop CBS, Moonves and Viacom hope to boost CBS’s own third place newscast and remove the star from NBC’s most profitable weekday program. The Today Show “is NBC’s cash cow and the goose that lays golden eggs,” wrote TVWeek reporter Michele Grappi this week. Today brings NBC “more than a reported $550 million in advertising revenue annually.” And what has attracted viewers and advertisers to Today are its co-anchors: Matt Lauer and Katie Couric. No wonder NBC “reportedly offered her $20 million a year to stay,” according to the New York Post. 

Moonves’ reasoning, a DiscoverTheNetworks profile speculated, “is that CBS might win by polarizing newscasts not Right-Left but male-female, and by letting ABC and NBC split the male audience while CBS appeals to women with a female anchor.”

Others have tried and failed. CNN failed to pull this off with longtime anchor Judy Woodruff. The gambit also fared poorly on major network newscasts: Connie Chung as Dan Rather’s brief co-anchor; Cynthia McFadden as one of three replacements for Ted Koppel on Nightline; and Elizabeth Vargas as one of two co-anchors replacing Peter Jennings last December. None of these competent female co-anchors have set the ratings world on fire – but none was ever the star Katie Couric is.

Couric once told a CNN interviewer that she would rather talk with world leaders than with movie stars. In that, she would follow the footsteps of her father, John, who was a journalist at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the wire service United Press. [1] “But the climate is such that there's so much emphasis on ratings, that that's hard to do,” Couric said. “When there is so much emphasis on ratings, it's hard for true journalism to survive.” Why does she imagine that this market reality would change at CBS?

Unlike her father – and any serious reporter – Couric has seldom been shy about injecting her political and ideological opinions into her work.

Couric’s Long History of Political Bias

“Considered one of the most charismatic leaders of the 20th Century…[Fidel] Castro traveled the country cultivating his image and his revolution delivered,” said Couric on Today, February 13, 1992. “Campaigns stamped out illiteracy and even today, Cuba has one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world.”

This may be part of her appeal to Moonves, who in February 2001 traveled to Havana with a handful of fellow Viacom and other media executives for an intimate private party with Cuba’s Marxist dictator Fidel Castro. One of those executives described this tropical prison with 11 million inmate slaves as “the most romantic, soulful and sexy country I’ve ever been to in my life.”

Katie Couric’s politics are apparently even farther to the Left and more partisan Democratic than Dan Rather’s. For this reason, she is unlikely to restore CBS’s credibility or redeem CBS’s well-deserved reputation for left-wing bias, so well documented in former CBS correspondent Bernard Goldberg’s books Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How The Media Distort The News and Arrogance: Rescuing America From the Media Elite.

We can catch glimpses of Couric's ideology and agenda by looking at some of her typical statements and questions collected by DiscoverTheNetworks.org, the Media Research Center, and others. Consider these examples:

“Good morning. The Gipper was an airhead! That's one of the conclusions of a new biography of Ronald Reagan that's drawing a tremendous amount of interest and fire today, Monday, September the 27th, 1999,” said Couric in opening that day's show.

“Only four percent of the delegates in the convention hall are African-Americans,” said Couric to General Colin Powell on August 1, 2000, during the week of the Republican National Convention. “Do you feel troubled at all by this, and do you feel used by your party?”

“Let's talk a little bit more about the right-wing…a climate that some say has been established by religious zealots or Christian conservatives,” said Couric in an interview with former Texas Democratic Governor Ann Richards broadcast on C-SPAN on April 3, 1999. “I just would like you to reflect on whether you feel people in this country are increasingly intolerant, mean-spirited, etc., and what, if anything, can be done about that….”

“Then the fallout from the death of Matthew Shepard. The tragic beating of the college student in Wyoming has some activists in this country saying there is a climate of anti-gay hate that's been fostered by a provocative advertising campaign by the political Right in this country,” said Couric on Today, October 13, 1998.

On October 12, 1998, while interviewing the governor of Wyoming, Couric asked whether “conservative political organizations like the Christian Coalition, the Family Research Council and Focus on Family [sic.] are contributing to this anti-homosexual atmosphere” by suggesting that homosexuals can change their sexual orientation.

(“It was clear six years ago, and remains clear today,” said Focus on the Family President Don Hodel in December 2004, after NBC had defended Couric's comments, “that Ms. Couric's tone and manner were not that of an impartial journalist seeking the truth about a tragedy. It was the tone and manner of an advocate intent on repeating an unfounded accusation disguised as a question.”)

“Some people are very concerned about talk shows, radio talk shows in general, of course. Most of them around the country have a decidedly conservative bent. The rap that some people give them is that they reflect the views of a very vocal minority, the extremists in this country, and don't really reflect the true nature of political debate in the United States. And, as a matter of fact, they tend to be quite divisive and sort of have a bad, a negative impact on the country,” said Couric during a Today interview with Oliver North, March 13, 1995.

“Some suggested over the weekend that it's wrong to expect Elian Gonzalez to live in a place that tolerates no dissent or freedom of political expression. They were talking about Miami,” said Couric on Today, April 3, 2000. “Another writer this weekend called it 'an out of control banana republic within America.'“

“So you don't think the right-wing should be so narrow-minded or rigid when it comes to abortion?” asked Couric of Republican National Committee chair Haley Barbour, February 1, 1993.

“Have you considered castration as an option?” Couric asked of a jilted bride on Today in November 1997. As critics noted, if any male NBC interviewer had even jokingly proposed sexually mutilating a woman, he would certainly have been fired.

On December 15, 1997, Couric reported on NBC's Dateline that commercials directed at men are simple-minded compared to those aimed at women because women are capable of more complex thought. Any male reporter on NBC who claimed that women's minds are less complex than men's would probably be fired, or would certainly be required to apologize and take sensitivity training.

And now CBS may name as its news anchor this woman who joked of castrating men and declared men to be more simple-minded than women. This might attract a certain kind of female viewer, but what self-respecting American male would ever again tune to the CBS Evening News?

During a 1996 interview with Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, Couric asked, “You know a lot has been made of the Republican Party being a very inclusive party, one that can embrace the views of various people. Given the way the platform has worked out, vis-a-vis abortion, and the fact that some of these Republican governors are not speaking because they felt as if they were being censored, do you still believe you can call the Republican Party an inclusive party?”

At the Republican National Convention that same year, Couric asked Elizabeth Dole: “I know that was a major goal of the Dole campaign, to make sure people saw this compassionate side of Bob Dole. Do you think that he is in some ways paying the price for a Republican Congress that enacted, or tried to enact measures that, in the views of many, were simply too harsh or too draconian?”

During one recent broadcast, Couric expressed her fear that American political leaders, by attempting to sugar-coat what she deems the significant problems of poverty and hunger in the United States, might eventually lead the country “back to the days when Ronald Reagan suggested that ketchup and relish be designated as vegetables.” Although Reagan's critics have frequently cited this quote as evidence of the former president's lack of compassion, Reagan in fact never said it.

In yet another reference to Reagan's alleged role in having fostered indifference toward the poor, Couric said, “The federal budget quadrupled under that [Reagan] administration. [People] might say that greed and materialism was the norm then, and that social ills were largely ignored, and therefore only worsened as a result of that neglect.”

Couric conducted a friendly interview with actress Whoopi Goldberg, during which the topic came to Goldberg's views on abortion. While opining about the importance of protecting women's “freedom of choice,” Goldberg alluded to an occasion when she and Couric had once “marched together” in an abortion-rights demonstration. At that point, Couric interrupted, giggling: “Nooo. I'm not allowed to do that” [a reference to the purported neutrality that journalists are expected to maintain on social issues and news events]. Goldberg replied humorously, “Oh no, that's right. We have not marched together. It was somebody who looked like you. Uh, I forget where I am sometimes.”

During an interview with Lynne Cheney [Vice President Dick Cheney's wife], Couric said, “Many people have described you as the true right-wing warrior of the family. You're a staunch conservative, you've spoken out against feminism, multiculturalism, you oppose trigger locks for guns…You have been described by Ken Adelman, a former arms control individual, as 'thinking all of Western civilization is in danger from the Left and she has no levity about that.'“

During a 2000 interview with Hillary Clinton, Couric asked, “Why do you think Hillary Clinton elicits such powerful emotions? Why is she such a polarizing figure?”

“Don't you think,” Couric continued, “there's an awful lot of projection that goes on in terms of how people view her, placing their own confused states, or their role in society, or [beliefs about] how powerful should women be, and it's sort of projected upon her as an individual?”

Couric also asked Ms. Clinton, “Wasn't it hard to balance being an activist First Lady and the responsibilities of a more traditional First Lady?” The tenor of such questions was strikingly similar to that of a question Couric had asked Mrs. Clinton eight years earlier: “Do you think the American people are not ready for someone who is as accomplished and career-oriented as Hillary Clinton?”

Girl Next Door or Power-Hungry Diva?

The appeal of “perky Katie Couric,” according to some analysts, is that she is both an energetic working woman and an ordinary girl-next-door with whom millions of female viewers identify. But behind the scenes, some have seen a different Couric. The New York Times reported Today Show firings and staff disaffection with a haughty Katie Couric whose “image has grown downright scary.”

“America's girl next door,” wrote Times reporter Alessandra Stanley, “has morphed into the mercurial diva down the hall. At the first sound of her peremptory voice and clickety stiletto heels, people dart behind doors and douse the lights. Or, at least, change the channel.” This sounds remarkably like descriptions of an imperious Hillary Clinton terrifying underlings in her husband's White House.

From Humble Beginnings to a Worldwide Leftist Platform

Katherine Couric was born in January 1957 in Arlington, Virginia, across the Potomac from Washington, D.C. Like her two sisters, she was a high school cheerleader, but, inspired by her journalist father, she also worked at the school newspaper.

In 1979, Couric graduated from the University of Virginia with a degree in American Studies. She became a desk assistant at ABC in Washington. “Basically I made coffee, answered phones and got [then network anchorman] Frank Reynolds ham sandwiches,” Couric told TV Guide. “It was the most humiliating job I ever had.”

After less than a year Couric found work as an assignment editor in fledgling Cable News Network (CNN)'s Washington Bureau. After seeing her first on-camera reports, CNN President Reese Schonfeld told producers he never wanted to see her on CNN again. Couric moved to CNN's Atlanta headquarters as Assistant Producer of the network's talk show Take Two, did on-camera political reporting during the 1984 presidential campaign, but found herself out of work after the election.

In 1984, Couric became a reporter at WTVJ in Miami and two years later returned to Washington, D.C., as a general assignment reporter for NBC-owned WRC-TV. When she asked the station's news director about opportunities to anchor, she was advised to look for a “really small market somewhere.”

In summer 1989, Couric accepted an NBC job as back-up reporter at the Pentagon for the season. She soon was hired as an NBC general assignment reporter by Washington bureau chief Tim Russert, who described her as “competent and unflustered.” During the U.S. incursion into Panama, Couric appeared repeatedly on NBC Nightly News and was soon acting as a network weekend anchor.

In May 1990, Couric accepted the newly created position of national correspondent on the network's morning show Today.

In 1989, NBC had replaced Today Show co-host Jane Pauley. Pauley, an Indiana native who had been a member of the Central Committee of the state Democratic Party, was married to unfunny cartoonist Gary Trudeau and exuded a leftist bias on the air.

Pauley’s replacement was Deborah Norville, teamed with the abrasive Bryant Gumbel (replaced by current co-host Matt Lauer in 1997). In 1991, Couric filled in when Norville took maternity leave, a change that became permanent. A new star at Today had arisen.

But if Couric ever was an ordinary girl, she is no longer. She “wants us to believe she's just like us,” wrote former Ladies' Home Journal editor Myrna Blyth in her 2004 book Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness – and Liberalism – to the Women of America. But Couric gets $550 haircuts and spends $7,500 each week on her personal trainer. Couric, who turned 49 in January, according to Women's Wear Daily had plastic surgery that year to lift her sagging eyebrows. (Couric has denied this.)

In 2001, Couric agreed to stay on NBC until 2006 in a deal that the New York Post reported was worth at least $64 million. It boosted Couric's annual pay from $7 million to more than $13 million per year, and with incentive provisions and syndication sales it could fetch her up to $100 million. This is far more than the big three networks were paying their star news anchors Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather, or Peter Jennings.

In 2001, NBC was terrified that if Couric moved to another network, the then-shaky ratings of Today would collapse. Couric also profited from a bidding war. CBS sent 60 Minutes boss Don Hewitt to woo her with a treasure trove of Viacom cash and opportunities, including her own chat show like Oprah Winfrey's. AOL Time Warner made a similar offer that included giving Couric the show of departing comedienne Rosie O'Donnell.

Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg tried to lure her to their company DreamWorks with a $100,000 video of actors holding “We Love You, Katie” signs and many millions of dollars. NBC finally prevailed, perhaps in part because Couric was able to sit in for a week as anchor in place of Tom Brokaw.

Katie Couric is not the girl next door. She is wealthy, powerful, and according to critics a temperamental diva. In a March 18, 2004, profile titled “The Cruella Syndrome” in the Left-leaning webzine Salon.com, Rebecca Traister details the stories of “Queen of Mean” Couric throwing temper tantrums on the set, bullying her staff and using her influence to get people fired, mailroom boys and network executives alike.

But 2001 was not an entirely happy year for Katie Couric. Her sister Emily, 10 years older than she and the oldest of her three siblings, died that year of pancreatic cancer.

Couric's husband, attorney Jay Monahan, left the powerful D.C. political law firm Williams and Connolly to move to New York with Katie and work as a legal commentator on the NBC-Microsoft cable news network MSNBC. Monahan died of colon cancer in 1998. This left Couric to raise their two young daughters.

Couric responded with a public campaign to raise national awareness of this cancer. In what was perhaps the most intimate broadcast in the history of American television, Couric let viewers watch the inner images of her own colonoscopy.

“I believe that most people in their hearts are Democrats,” said Emily Couric, a Democratic Virginia State Senator from Charlottesville. At the time her fatal cancer was diagnosed, Senator Couric was the prospective front-runner for her state's Democratic nomination for lt. governor. She also served as chair of the Virginia Democratic Party.

Katie Couric “considers herself a feminist and hopes to work on stories about politics, women, abortion debate, teen pregnancy, and the homeless,” wrote a Newsmakers biographer in 1991, “but [Couric] is careful not to express her own opinions too freely on television. She believes that coming on strongly with a personal agenda might turn viewers off.”

Oh, really? Look again at some of Couric’s quotations above, statements that reveal her partisan politics to be far, far to the Left of America’s heartland. Ann Coulter was right to describe Couric as the “affable Eva Braun of morning TV…she hides behind her Girl Scout persona in order to systematically promote a left-wing agenda.” When Katie Couric becomes anchor of the CBS Evening News, she will almost certainly continue the Tiffany Network’s Rather-biased tradition of seeing and describing the world through a single eye – the left eye.

ENDNOTES:

1. United Press later merged to become United Press International (UPI). Her father later became a public relations writer for the National Association of Radio & Television Broadcasters.

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Mr. Ponte co-hosts a national radio talk show Monday through Friday 6-8 PM Eastern Time (3-5 PM Pacific Time) on the Genesis Communications Network. Internet Audio worldwide is at GCNlive .com. The show's live call-in number is 1-800-259-9231. A professional speaker, he is a former Roving Editor for Reader's Digest.


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