Katie Couric's Enemies Are CBS Insiders
Tuesday , April 24, 2007
By Roger Friedman
Katie Couric's barrage of bad publicity is coming not from the outside, but from the inside of CBS, sources tell me.
Indeed, one of Couric's frequently mentioned enemies is Bob Schieffer, the lovable, durable veteran journalist who filled in as anchor of the "CBS Evening News" between Dan Rather's departure and Couric's arrival.
But sources say that Schieffer has been unhappy lately, mainly because his airtime, which was prominent when Couric first started, has dwindled in recent weeks.
It's been suggested that a hit piece on Couric written by Gail Shister in yesterday's Philadelphia Inquirer was inspired by Schieffer as its main source.
"He has a direct line to her," one insider said.
Shister, strangely enough, was not supposed to be writing about TV anymore at the Inquirer. She was in a well-publicized battle with the paper after losing her 25-year-old column. But suddenly she resurfaced just to eviscerate Couric.
Shister, I see from a reading of her columns in the paper's archive, has been on Couric's case since before she started as anchor of the evening news.
So, too, has the New York Times' most disliked media writer, Alessandra Stanley. As a woman, you would think Stanley would be more sympathetic to Couric, but she notes that Katie anchored a report wearing "white slacks and very little makeup."
What color were the suits worn by NBC's Brian Williams and ABC's Charlie Gibson? Were they wearing makeup, powder or lip gloss? Stanley didn't mention that.
One Stanley column almost could have been called "A Valentine's Day Massacre." The Times writer went on and on about Couric's appearance and concluded that it was inconsistent. Stanley was more concerned about Couric wearing pearls one day and not on another than whether the show was any good.
The fact is, the "CBS Evening News With Katie Couric" is pretty good.
After accepting criticism that there was too much soft news and too many features, the show's producers have changed. So has the producer; Rick Kaplan replaced Rome Hartman a few weeks ago. Kaplan has since made the show harder.
On Monday night, Couric's broadcast led with an FDA investigation and some real reporting about food poisoning. The two other newscasts started where they left off on Friday: with more of the same stuff from Virginia Tech.
"We thought the public was turned off by more from there," a CBS insider told me Monday. "We thought it was starting to look unseemly."
Couric's show last night also ran good features on rap music and on exonerated death row inmates after dealing with Virginia Tech, the death of Boris Yeltsin and a few other headlines of the day in the first 14 minutes.
If Couric's enemies are within CBS — and every bit of evidence suggests they are — then it's time for CBS CEO Les Moonves to step up and do something.
The CBS newscast is every bit as good as the ones on NBC and ABC, and it's not necessarily true that Americans only want their news from old white guys. But it's the old white guys who would be resistant more than anyone else to the changes at CBS.
Coincidentally, back in 1988 I commissioned an article for the now-defunct Fame Magazine on how much CBS News had already changed for the worse. What was known as the "Tiffany" network had already lost a lot of its luster.
The author of the piece was David Halberstam, who died in a car crash Monday in Menlo Park, Calif. He was 73. It was an honor for me work with Halberstam, who was a fascinating guy and a gifted journalist. It kind of took my breath away when I heard how he died.
Halberstam already knew back in 1988 that the Rather-Schieffer era at CBS News was over. Those two were the last remnants of the Edward R. Murrow-Charles Collingwood news approach.
The dynasty had been so watered down that Rather refused to let Walter Cronkite on the air after his ouster, and even then, the reporting on the "CBS Evening News" had become desperately out of date.
There is a reason that Cronkite donated his voice-over introduction to Couric's broadcast: He likes and respects her. "60 Minutes" creator Don Hewitt is also a Couric fan. You may recall he said so in this space and told me he had once tried to get her away from the "Today" show for "60 Minutes" years ago.
Of course, both Cronkite and Hewitt are ex-officio at CBS News. But believe me, if they're Couric fans, there are others.
Katie, dear friends, is going to be the anchor of the "CBS Evening News" for a good long time to come — and that's a good thing.