Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Katie Couric Credibility Deathwatch: It's Over

I haven't seen Katie Couric read the news on CBS yet. But I did see her fawning, imbecilic, cringe-inducing, hero-worshipping fluff piece on Condi Rice on 60 Minutes last Sunday. I didn't like it.

Others have commented on the interview. They've nailed it. I don't have much to add on that front. So let me speculate as to what the Katie Hearts Condi 60 Minutes fiasco tells us about Katie Couric as Serious Journalist.

I'm sure that Katie Couric is fairly smart. I'd seen her on the Today show a few times, and she seemed pretty quick on her feet. And as trite as this sounds, it's hard to see how someone can be as successful as she's been in the media game without being at least reasonably intelligent.

So how do you explain her performance on 60 Minutes? How do you explain her decision to treat an interview with the Secretary of State of the United States, a key player in the Bush Administration, in the middle of an election campaign, at a time when America is bogged down in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and may well soon initiate a war with Iran, as an opportunity to produce a campaign commercial-style fluff piece for the benefit of her subject?

You can rule out any "management made her do it" theory right off the bat. No, her Condi interview was part of the CBS News Katie Couric Product Launch, and she's got a major say in how that campaign in run. Now, I have no insight into or interest in how Katie Couric made the decision as a psychological matter. But here's what the fact of the decision tells us:

As a journalist, as a serious newsperson, Katie Couric is incompetent. Utterly, completely and irredeemably incompetent.

How did this come to pass? I don't know, but allow me to speculate. The likely explanation is that she lacks relevant domain-specific experience and knowledge. How do you think she would do if you plucked her up from the CBS newsroom and gave her a shot at being a real estate partner in a law firm? Would you hire her as a heart surgeon?

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that reading the news requires as much training or knowledge as something like heart surgery. And to the extent Couric's anchor job just requires her to read from a teleprompter, I'm sure she'll manage just fine. But as the 60 Minutes fiasco demonstrates, she has terrible journalistic judgment. To the extent that her job requires her to make distinctions, to exercise discretion in order to make tough calls about what's important and what isn't, forget it.

Now, maybe you think I'm being a bit harsh. After all, I didn't just say that she is "incompetent", but that she is "irredeemably incompetent." Well, I think I can resolve any doubts you may have. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I give you (h/t to Charles Pierce) Katie Couric's blog, Couric & Co. Read this and then tell me if you disagree.

1 comment:

Damion said...

I agree. It's interesting to note that Couric's "serious side" nominally emerged in the public eye following 9/11. Her mea culpa confession on 9/18/01 that she felt "embarassed" by all the trivia that had appeared on prior Today shows, implicitly suggested she was ready to bear the mantle of a reinvigorated American fourth estate. (Source: Nov/Dec 2001 issue of Columbia Journalism Review ("CJR") "Darts and Laurels" column).

Mon oeil! (Yeah, right!)

Couric's self-flaggelation was linked to a possible resurgance of serious news. But what did this mean for Couric?

One wonders whether Couric's live broadcast of her own colonoscopy was an event that foreshadowed the subject matter of her future news analysis or merely their quality... (I don't question the positive effect her broadcast had on raising awareness of colon cancer, but I'm skeptical this is the stuff of "serious" news).

To wit, look to Katie's July 23, 2002 Today show which the CJR described as follows: "The July 23 program — a movie promoter's fantasy come true — included Katie and Matt coyly bantering about her cameo role in the Austin Powers flick Goldmember, a preview of her interview with one of its stars, a presentation of selected clips, her interview with another one of the stars (more clips), and a plug for that night's NBC Dateline, which would report in more detail on Katie at work on the Goldmember set." (CJR, http://www.cjr.org/issues/2002/6/dartslaurels.asp)

"Smashing, baby! YEAH!" is about the only critical thought I suspect Couric has in considering the responses of her interviewees.

Simply not good enough if you believe news is something more than experience.