Katie Couric’s CBS Debut

Tom Shales has a blistering review of Katie Couric’s debut last night as anchor of the “CBS Evening News.”

He begins:

A title change would seem to be in order. Maybe “The CBS Evening No-News.” Or “The CBS Evening Magazine.” Or “30 Minutes.”

Better than “30 Minutes II,” I guess. Still, that’s all unfair.

I didn’t watch the program but have little doubt about his characterization of the show as being mostly gimmicks designed to bring attention to the various CBS personalities. After all, that’s what television news has evolved into over the past twenty years.

As Shales himself notes,

In fact, if Murrow were going to spin in his grave, he would have started long ago, when “infotainment” first appeared on the TV horizon and newscasters became pop personalities akin to movie stars and actors appearing in sitcoms. Murrow must be all spun out by now. It’s been downhill for a long time.

Couric’s broadcast did not seem to hasten the decline and fall of TV news, but it didn’t offer anything really new, either — and on its first outing, it didn’t offer anything news. A stranger from another planet tuning in the show would have to assume nothing happened in America or the world yesterday except that a photo of Tom Cruise’s baby materialized.

Michelle Malkin, who makes her living writing about the news, observes, “I haven’t been a regular prime-time evening news viewer in years. Decades, it seems. Katie Couric isn’t going to change that.”

Same here. I stopped regularly watching the network news at least 15 years ago. For a while, I watched Brit Hume and the gang on “Fox Special Report,” because it was fresh and its hour length gave it the ability to provide depth. Well over a year ago, though, I started just TiVo’ing it and fast forwarding to the roundtable discussion segment at the end. Lately, I let the TiVo replace one episode with the next, only very rarely bothering to sample part of the show.

In the Internet age, television news is virtually obsolete. I’m accustomed to being able to quickly scan through the stories to get only those that interest me. Even with TiVo and fast forward, television makes that more trouble than it’s worth.

Aside from the occasional debate or press conference, I’d rather just read about the story rather than wait for it to unfold in real time while the blowdried blowhards on camera figure out new ways to say the same thing they’ve been saying for the past two hours as they wait for something to happen.

People can simply get news more efficiently nowadays. The only way to save the nightly network news shows, then, is to make it about the personalities rather than the news. Katie Couric may be the perfect choice for the job. After all, she managed to get people to sit around watching her for a couple hours in the mornings rather than spending five minutes scanning the Internet or just listening to NPR in the background.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Mark says:

    Let’s just say it was 30 minutes of my life I wish I could have back.

  2. JKB says:

    Based on the conversations at work. Many tuned in to network news for the first time in years to catch her debut. Didn’t like what they had to endure and won’t do it again.

    Poor Katie is to be the whipping girl for the downfall of network news.

  3. andrew says:

    Someone should explain to them that the Taliban increasingly getting their butts kicked in laughably one sided engagements is not a “comeback.”

  4. Nancy says:

    Was very disappointed. She could have set next to Groucho or Reggis. But what she did was not the news. And the Tom Cruise, baby pictures cheap trick. Now bring Dan Rather back.

  5. matt steves says:

    I watched her debut & a couple more broadcasts, but won’t return. Call me a dinosaur, but I find it inappropriate for the anchor to greet her guests with, “Hey, John” (referring to a medical contributor;) even more unsettling is her posture, perched on the anchor desk – huh?? Last I heard, Ms Couric is around 50 years old – seems to this viewer that she’d trying a bit too hard to be “down” with the kids!