Denial: Couric Blames Sagging 'Evening News' Ratings on Lead-ins

Old media is nothing, if not oblivious to its consistently declining popularity among the public at large. This tired, but time-tested pattern of misplacing causes of failure was borne out once again via the recent musings of none other than the soon-to-be-former CBS "Evening News" anchor Katie Couric.

In a Q & A published Monday in the New York Times, interviewer Adam Goldman questioned Couric about why the show she has hosted since September 2006 remains in third place, despite effusive initial plaudits and wall-to-wall marketing. Couric replied (emphasis mine):

I believe we were in third place for 13 years before I got here, and I think habits, particularly with an evening news broadcast, move at a glacial pace. And I think that local news stations have something to do with it.

Evidently, Goldman himself was stymied by this response - he attempted to wrap his head around it via a follow-up question that attempted to clarify what Couric had uttered. One could be forgiven for wondering if Goldman wasn’t also offering an out if Couric was adept enough to grasp it. But no. She continued:

Some people have said that local news is really important in terms of lead-ins. I haven’t really analyzed that. I’m just saying what I’ve read or some of the theories about it.

In fairness, as has been highlighted repeatedly, evening network news shows have been steeply tanking for years. Katie Couric, however, was touted as the vaunted new game-changer: the first female host of an evening network newscast.

Katie Couric was brought into the Evening News anchor chair in a highly vaunted ploy to repackage the program. By any standard that counts, this effort has dismally failed. In fact, the only ratings bump the Evening News experienced was under Couric’s predecessor Bob Schieffer, who clearly served, however, only as a temporary placeholder for Couric. Schieffer’s relative success probably had less to do with his politics – also left of center, if his reporting is an indicator – than with the way he presents himself; sure, he’s a liberal, he's just a bit less condescending about it.

In Katie Couric’s sequestered universe, her inability to build on Schieffer’s success is not due to the fact that she is merely a glittering addition to a tiresomely lengthy line of left-of-center journalists. No, the fault lies in the failure of weak local news affiliate lead-ins to provide adequate publicity for her show.

Later on in the NYT interview, Couric does concede that evening newscasts are a “declining genre”, but immediately she softens the blow by couching the ebbing popularity as simply a preference “in terms of how people consume news. After all, Katie Couric, as a committed progressive, cannot countenance the possibility that her ideology and those of her counterparts at ABC and NBC may have anything to do with their unstanched hemorrhaging of viewers. Couric proved even less versatile than many of her colleagues at closeting her obvious political predispositions, as illustrated by, among a host of others, the following pertinent anecdotes (all documented by Newsbusters’ Rich Noyes):

• Referring in 2008 to perceived positive coverage in the run up to the 2003 Iraq War as “one of the most embarrassing chapters in American journalism”

• Questioning John Boehner about Republican opposition to the 2009 Obama stimulus package: “Are you out of touch with the American people?”

• Her laudatory dubbing of Al Gore the “Godfather of Green” and the “King of Conservation” as she welcomed him to her show in November 2009

• In a coup de grace of ridiculousness in December 2010, musing aloud regarding the possibility that our nation didn’t need a Muslim version of the Cosby Show to “change attitudes” in America

As Media Research President Brent Bozell observes in his latest column, “People inside the news business greeted the news [of Couric’s departure] as shocking. But what’s shocking is that Couric didn’t get the boot years ago.” Indeed! It is a testimony to today’s prevailing Old media culture that someone who openly espoused thinly veiled contempt for middle American perspectives as regularly as Katie Couric did could fill a CBS anchor chair for nearly half a decade.

Following the 1972 election, film critic Pauline Kael famously uttered that she knew no one who had voted for Richard Nixon (although he had just swept 49 states). Like Kael, Couric inhabits the cocktail society bubble that is New York City, and is rarely exposed to what most of us in flyover country prefer to be doing at 6:30 on a weeknight. For an ever increasing percentage of us, that choice definitely does not involve tuning into the CBS Evening News, no matter what enticements local affiliates may offer!

CBS Evening News CBS Media Business Adam Goldman