In the highly catty world of television news, the Shister has hit the fan.
Katie Couric took over as anchor of the CBS Evening News in September, becoming the first sole female anchor at any of the networks. She replaced interim anchor and veteran newsman Bob Schieffer, who publicly supported the decision despite being passed over. Lesley Stahl, the sole female journalist at CBS’ Sixty Minutes, threw Couric a celebratory luncheon, though she had also been vying for the anchor’s chair. CBS launched the Couric era with millions of dollars in promotional support.
By all measures, Couric’s first six months on the job have been a failure. Her ratings have been weak. In late March, she was highly criticized for suggesting in an interview that John Edwards was using his wife Elizabeth’s cancer for political gain (you’ll recall the professional gain Couric got from her own husband’s death from colon cancer in 1998). In early April, it was discovered that Couric’s personal online blog was being written by one of her producers, and included content plagiarized by other writers. Then, this past Sunday, journalist Gail Shister filed a blistering article in the Philadelphia Inquirer that asserted that CBS’s own people have given up on Couric. That her hiring was an “expensive, unfixable mistake” and “a disaster.”
This, just as Couric seemed to be turning the corner. She has been working with a new executive producer, Rick Kaplan, with good results. Her ratings are showing signs of improvement, and last week Couric provided the timeliest, most extensive coverage of the Virginia Tech tragedy of any of the news anchors. So who provided the ammunition for Shister’s assassination piece in the Inquirer? Why, it’s that kindly old Bob Schieffer and his buddy Lesley Stahl, according to industry insiders. Seems Rick Kaplan called a little staff meeting and blasted the two of them for submarining his anchor in the trades. All of CBS’s other senior people have been rallying to give her support.
So now the future looks bright for Katie, right? Well, maybe not. The tabloids are all worked up over the salacious news that Couric has been dating a 33-year-old triathlete. They’ve been going to restaurants, shopping, vacationing together. “America’s Sweetheart” has been given a new nickname: “Couric the Cougar.” Unforgiveable behavior for a 50-year-old mother of two!
Evidently, there’s more than one way to destroy a professional woman. And that’s the way it is.