When the folks at CBS shooed Katie Couric out the door, one could almost hear the harrumph with which Scott Pelley was reinstalling the Old Regime of Ed Murrow. Unlike Couric, Pelley wasn’t debuting with celebrity interviews and updates on Tom Cruise’s baby. CBS is going back to biased Dan Rather basics, treating Couric’s tenure as little more than a palate cleanser.
With Couric off the news grid in pursuit of cloning Oprah Winfrey’s success in feel-your-pain afternoon chat, who will be the public face of soft and marshmallowy News Lite? Coincidentally, NBC’s Meredith Vieira retired from NBC’s “Today” and NBC was contractually obligated to promote long-time morning news reader Ann Curry. How light is Ann? Last October, while narrating a story on how Russia implausibly unveiled a new set of inflatable weapons designed to fool spy satelittes, Curry added her own touch: “Wish all weapons were like that.”
Since joining the show in 1997, Curry has demonstrated that the network news types shouldn't be too fast to point and sneer at their own cartoons of Republican women like Sarah Palin as too dim to be a national leader. When political reporter Chuck Todd laid out the Super Tuesday primary map in 2008, Curry couldn't find the state of Illinois on a map. (She pointed to Minnesota.)
Sometimes political correctness is the issue, not factual correctness. In 2003, Curry questioned an author of a book urging families to learn more about the history of Thanksgiving and to appreciate being American. She insisted, "You know, there are some American Indians who feel that Thanksgiving should be a day of mourning, not a day of celebration because of what happened to their people."
In her interviews, Curry has almost patented a sappy style of liberalism lite, especially on the environment. In 2007, she promoted a Ben and Jerry's executive using a "people-powered blender bike" to make smoothies. Curry added: "You really care and have, for years, cared about global warming." As Curry pedaled the blender bike, she exclaimed, "You see, you can save the environment! It is possible!"
Perhaps she could make enough electricity to power the "Today" show if she bicycles during all her interviews?
In 2006, she showed her hippie-friendly stripes by promoting a concert with activist Trudie Styler, the wife of the rock star Sting. Styler said global warming was coming home to roost on a "karmic level," and said her concert's after-party would have a "Woodstock theme," singing Sixties songs in Sixties clothes, and Curry begged, "Oh, please give me an invitation to that one!"
In 2002, Curry interviewed Jane Goodall, the "legendary" chimpanzee-wrangler and sympathetically underlined Goodall's radical cant: "You had once written, quote, 'I feel deep shame when I look into the eyes of my grandchildren and think how much damage has been done to the planet Earth since I was their age. Each of us must work as hard as we can now to heal the hurts and save what is left.' Why do you think each one of us can make a difference given the enormity of the damage?"
Curry meshes perfectly with the way NBC has promoted "green" initatives like Al Gore's 2007 "Live Earth" concerts. In the midst of oodles of live coverage on NBC, Curry urged Gore to run for president: "After fueling this grass roots movement, if you become convinced that without you there will not be the political will in the White House to fight global warming to the level that is required, because the clock is ticking, would you answer the call?"
Curry does not bow and scrape before Republican officials. Back in early 2008, she scolded President Bush that the high cost of the Iraq war was bringing "suffering" to the American people. But when she chatted with then presidential candidate Barack Obama weeks later, after insisting he might want to pick Hillary Clinton as vice president, she tossed softball questions like: "Coffee or tea?...Beatles or the Rolling Stones?...Cubs or White Sox?...Basketball or bowling?" There was also "Best thing your mom ever taught you?"
In short, it's worrisome - and predictable - that NBC is now placing its high-profit "Today" franchise in the hands of a woman whose soft-news hero was Katie Couric and whose hard-news hero is Helen Thomas. Old TV habits die hard, but I predict "Today" watchers will find Curry's daily output is just too much syrupy bias to tolerate. They need less Twinkies and more fiber in their media diet.