It turns out retired CBS News anchor Katie Couric had at least one fan during her failed attempt to lift the network's evening newscast out of the ratings cellar: Gail Collins, former editorial page editor of the New York Times turned feminist columnist. Collins devoted her Saturday column to Couric’s significance as the first female nightly news anchor: "Katie Couric Moves On."
After hailing Couric’s (of course) "historic Sarah Palin interview," Collins declared Couric a "total success," ratings be damned. How so? By managing "not to screw things up." (The soft bigotry of low expectations?)
From my perspective as a charter of the progress of American women, Couric was a total success. The first great mandate for a First Woman is not to screw things up for the Second Woman or the Third. On that count, Couric did great. She was under incredible scrutiny and pressure, and she held up her end. There was never a point at which American viewers turned to each other and said: "Well, that certainly didn’t work out."
When she first got the job, Couric said, she was told that 9 percent of viewers polled didn’t want to watch a woman in the anchor job and 4 percent had mixed feelings. That’s not a humongous proportion of the watching public, but within the world of television ratings, it’s quite a chunk.
Now, people don’t even really notice. Couric made it unremarkable to turn on the television news and see a woman sitting in the chair of authority. And when the time came for ABC to find a new anchor and there was no longer a novelty premium in picking a woman, Diane Sawyer was chosen because she was clearly just the best person for the job. The follow-through is critical when it comes to these pathbreaking stories, so there are really two heroines here. The danger of first-woman-ness is that it doesn’t always lead anywhere.