Katie Couric, Ghost in the Machine


As Katie Couric leaves the anchor's chair at CBS, Jack Shafer argues that we've entered the post-anchor world:

CBS News and Katie Couric would like to acknowledge the Nashville music establishment and country radio for your support.
Full Frontal

The explosion of news choices on cable and the Web have made the evening news an anachronism enjoyed mostly by an audience of older and less highly educated viewers, according to the Project for Excellence in Journalism. If there is little prestige, honor, and future being the anchor of the No. 1 show chasing an audience that is becoming smaller, older, and is less-educated, imagine how the No. 3 anchor must have felt….

The diminution of audience size is one reason today's anchors are post-anchors. But the more important reason is that the programs they host aren't really news programs anymore. "The journalistic value of these programs is marginal at this point," George Washington University media professor Mark Feldstein told me in 2009. Indeed, the erosion of the evening show's journalistic value may have been part of the calculation in giving Couric the job. She was so expert at serving infotainment in her previous incarnation on NBC's Today program--she really was!--that the CBS News bosses must have figured that she'd be better at attracting the infotainment audience than a hard-news broadcaster.

So perhaps when CBS News signed Couric it understood that we had reached the end of the anchor-era better than I give it credit for. Indeed, when ABC News gave Diane Sawyer the keys to its World News telecast in 2009, they were overtly endorsing the CBS News strategy of hiring a middle-aged bottle blond from morning TV to chaperone all the unschooled geezers turning on their sets at night. Putting Couric and Sawyer in the anchor chairs was admitting that the programs had no future, only a past that could continue to be harvested for profits (yes, the evening shows are still profitable, thanks to pharmaceutical ads) until their audiences finally die off.

I have vague memories of watching Walter Cronkite with my parents when I was a preteen, but I gave up the evening-news habit with the arrival of CNN in the '80s. By the beginning of the W. years I was consuming most of my news online; TV's main role in keeping me informed came during the late-night comedy shows. (If the host made a joke I didn't get, I Googled it.) These days, of course, I consume the late-night shows online too, chopped up into brief bites and embedded in blogs, tweets, and status updates. And I'm not exactly on the leading edge when it comes to adopting new technologies.

All of which is my roundabout way of suggesting that for a good deal of the country, the post-anchor period is old hat; we're well into the post-cable period. Katie Couric is just another ghost in our laptops, popping up at irregular intervals when our peers see fit to link to her. Her rivals aren't just Brian Williams and Diane Sawyer; they're Rebecca Black and the Star Wars kid. Couric never was an anchor for us, because it's been a long time since the person who happens to read the news at 6:30 was keeping us moored.

NEXT: An Inflation Tearjerker, Or, Don't Bother Saving Those Dollars, America; We'll Just Make More!

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  1. Alt-text of the week? I know it's only Tuesday, but I vote yes.

    1. Yeah, what's up with the Nashville Music Establishment hate?

      We are Music City!!! YOU CAN'T DENY THIS!!! LOVE US KATIEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!


      Also, Rush kicked ass on Sunday.

        1. I do love this frickin town. You can't throw a rock without hitting a musician, and that lends a certain attitude to the place that is different from anywhere else.

          1. I've never been there, but in a few months when our youngest is finally old enough to leave with the grandparents for a long weekend I'd love to check it out. I've heard nothing but great things (though I still share Cash's sentiment about the Nashville Establishment; how many great albums from the late '70s/early '80s were ruined by that syrupy, stringy production?).

            1. By then they were mostly being ruined by electric piano and flanged guitars. The syrupy strings was mainly in the late 50s and 60s.

              1. Yeah, you're right re: the strings. I was thinking more of the production on something like the Highwaymen, which would be amazing with the right production qualities but as-is is barely listenable despite being an amazing assembly of talent. Of course, that might have been more of a problem with '80s music in general rather than a Nashville thing.

            2. Cash was completely right. What's crazy is that there are tons of bands I've seen come and go in Nashville that had that original gritty Cash-style country sound and yet the labels still want the next Carrie Underwood instead. I don't get it.

              At the same time Record labels in town are losing money hand over fist right now, and they deserve it. After spending 20 years in the music business I will shed no tears to see them all go belly up.

            3. Also Clubmedsux,

              If you come at the right time you may get to have Balko kick you in the nuts in person!

              1. Actually some of my fondest memories of when I grew up in Kentucky, were taking trips down to Nashville. I haven't been back to TN since they dismantled Opreyland, but I'd love to take my wife there, show her around. Johnny Cash FTW.

          2. This is a great town. The Station Inn is a slice of heaven. It just pisses me off that, for the most part, I have to go to Kentucky to get decent beer.

      1. At the risk of being Captain Obvious, I think it's a reference to this.

        1. Captain Obvious is obvious.

          I did get the Cash reference.

          1. Once I realized you from Nashville, I hung my head. I hung my head.

            1. *were* from...

              1. You're scoring about as often as UConn and Butler did last night. They got 2/3 of the way to your 143.

                [scampers away]

                1. Awful game, but I'm still smiling. Scamper mf, scamper. No, I predicted that. I was dead in the pool. I told people it would be a football game. Too bad I figured on a Pitt/UConn Madison Square Garden performance, like the Big East final.

      2. I'll be at the Hershey show on Friday.

        1. I could not believe that they can still pull off these songs in their late 50's. I mean just from a PHYSICAL standpoint it's amazing. But the sound was unbelievable. And they played for at least two hours without counting the break in between.

          Awesome show, you won't be disappointed.

  2. the programs had no future, only a past that could continue to be harvested for profits (yes, the evening shows are still profitable, thanks to pharmaceutical ads) until their audiences finally die off.

    Wow, I think we finally have some snarkompetition for The Jacket.

    1. And adult diapers... though stress-urinary incontinence is not a natural part of aging, if Bonnie Blair is to be believed.

  3. Katie Couric is still alive?

    1. Dispatch War Rocket Ajax to bring back her body!

      1. An outstanding Flash Gordon reference, FTW.

    2. Check with her stockbroker, he's the only one who really knows.

  4. Every once in a while, a story like this comes along to remind me that nightly national news programs still exist. It's like a bucket of cold water thrown in my face. After 20 minutes or so, I dry off and the sweet release of forgetfulness settles over me once again.

  5. FOXNEWS is EVIL! Stop FOX! They chain people to their chairs tape open their eyelids and FORCE people to watch them!!! STOP FOX NEWS!!!!!!!!

  6. Her rivals aren't just Brian Williams and Diane Sawyer; they're Rebecca Black and the Star Wars kid.

    Hi, I'm Katie Couric. Our top story this evening: Yesterday was Thursday, Thursday. Today is Friday. Tomorrow is Saturday, and Sunday comes afterwards.

    For more on this breaking story, we turn to a random black rapper driving an import sedan.

    1. I had to Google "Rebecca Black" as this is the third reference I've seen about her today. Let me be clear: ignorance was bliss.

      1. Conan O'Brien's song Thursday is better.

      2. Watch Colbert's version on Jimmy Fallon's show. It's quite something.

        1. Yeah, that was pretty hilarious (especially when Black Thought did the rap part). Also hilarious: the faux Bob Dylan cover.

          1. The best part about the Dylan one is all the commenters playing along on Youtube.

            1. Yeah that's awesome. I also love the idjits who don't get the joke and complain about it.

      3. Rebecca Black? Soooo four weeks ago.

    2. Katie, you got nice legs and a rack for a woman of your age. Mute the sound and enjoy while you can. Works over at Fox too with the blondes.
      And you whippersnappers get off my lawn; someday you'll be old and only capable of drooling over images on the screen too.

      1. CNN's Robin Meade does it for me.

      2.'ll be old and only capable of drooling over images on the screen too.

        Oh for the days when one could pop that broad in the eye from an easy chair ten feet away. (sigh)

      3. BASTARD!!!!

  7. If you're waiting until 6:30pm to be fed your daily dose of quote-news-unquote; there's no hope for you. You deserve to be misinformed.

    1. The Gods of the Copybook Headings

      AS I PASS through my incarnations in every age and race,
      I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.
      Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
      And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.

      We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn
      That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
      But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
      So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.

      We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
      Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place,
      But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
      That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.

      With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch,
      They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch;
      They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;
      So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.

      When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
      They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
      But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
      And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "Stick to the Devil you know."

      On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
      (Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
      Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
      And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "The Wages of Sin is Death."

      In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
      By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
      But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
      And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "If you don't work you die."

      Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
      And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
      That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four
      And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.

      As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
      There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
      That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
      And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

      And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
      When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
      As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
      The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

      1. When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,

        More likely all men will pay for existing and pay for the sins of all others.

    2. You deserve to be misinformed.

      That knock on the door you hear just as Diane Sawyer's mug on your TV gives way to the drawing of tonight's Powerball? That's the Death Panel, here to judge you worthy or unworthy of your pills and/or new hip.

  8. Fuck her, fuck Diane Sawyer, fuck Brian Williams, and fuck the rest of them. And by "fuck" I mean get rid of them yesterday.

    The network evening news is just as insulting to the average middle-school kids' intelligence than any of the morning infotainment shows.

    And yeah I'm going to say it, the liberal bias is awful too.

  9. I'm in full agreement with this post, but older people still watch the nightly news, and they vote in droves. The anchors -- and the Big Three network news divisions -- might not hold cultural significance, but they have a lot of political influence.

    1. You are correct, and that is another reason I can't wait to see the nightly news die.

    2. (Bart) "Grandpa, where did you learn all that history"

      (Grandpa Simpson) "Oh, I pieced it together from matchbooks and sugar packets."

      1. (Bart) "Grandpa, where did you learn all that history"

        History. n. 1. Blatant lies told about things that didn't happen by people who weren't there.

    3. If only there were a way to counteract the disproportionate number of oldsters who vote... hmm, I can't think of one.

      1. The youth vote?

        1. Considering Reason is chock full of "principled non-voters", it's a bit rich to hear complaints about how many old people vote. Sort of like refusing to drive an automobile as a matter of principle and then complaining about how auto owners are able to get everywhere faster.

          1. I was kidding, by the way. The oft-mythical "youth vote" is always amusing. I thought you were throwing bait about O-care and "death panels," and I was being cheeky.

            I forgot about all the principled non-voters here. My own voting record is really spotty for what are probably the reasons of many people here, and it takes a lot to get me to the polls (plus, I'm in CT, where my vote is like the proverbial wind urination). I was going to say that I vote GOP and hold my nose, but thinking about it, I don't actually do so, and I often skip voting, so...

      2. We recognize the simple truth that if there is such a thing as "too young to vote" then "too old to vote" makes sense too.

        1. how about if your license to drive is revoked due to age/infirmity, so is your voting card?

        2. Only people between the ages of 30 and 40 should be allowed to vote.

          1. I'd be Ok with setting the voting age at least at 35 instead of 18 or 21. Maybe 40. Then you've got some life experience.

        3. Do you honestly think, even for a minute, that if your vote actually made any real difference, you would be allowed it?

        4. I would definitely support requiring voters to pass a basic, basic, basic civics test. The devil would be in the details of course, as the Jim Crow South abused this idea to prevent blacks from voting, but it's hard to argue that people who have no clue about what they're voting for should be voting.

  10. I couldn't even hazard a guess as to when I last watched a network news broadcast.

    On the topic of "news, in general":

    Mister Union Hall Talking Points, the other night, was earnestly insisting NPR is completely unbiased; and, of course, Teh TeaPartayReplublikkkanz! are evilly trying to squelch the sole source of honest news in the universe. I said, just to taunt him, "That's just because they agree with you!"

    "Ohhh, noooo. That's not it at all," he admonished.

    I didn't even bother to tell him what a news organization chooses to cover (or not cover) is bias. It's inescapable.

    I wonder if NPR has ever done a segment on people killed in wrong-door drug raids. Or the BATF intentionally allowing weapons to be shipped into Mexico.

    1. They did a snippet on the guns-to-Mexico story when it first broke. It was about a 2 minute segment sandwiched in between a 30 minute "Energy Company kills Gaia" story and a "Wisconsin Teachers Are Superheroes" special.

    2. I didn't even bother to tell him what a news organization chooses to cover (or not cover) is bias. It's inescapable.

      You'd be amazed at how few people understand this.

  11. I remember when Connie Chung was some sort of anchor, I forget what network. Her delivery always seemed to me like she was reading a story to a five year old, and not a particularly bright five year old.

    1. Sounds like she was perfect for the 6:30pm American demographic.

    2. She was on NBC when Brokaw was on his sexual tourism vacations.

    3. Wasn't she co-anchor with Dan Rather for awhile on CBS?

    4. Don't you mean Mrs. Povich?

  12. What in the hell is "CBS News?"

  13. Couric left because it's anchorman, not anchorlady and that is a scientific fact!

  14. Is it just me, or does Katie have man hands?

    1. Keep her away from Lobstergirl.

      1. Because she'll break that poor lobster in half?

    2. Nope, that was my immediate reaction, too

      "Man hands....ewwwwwww!!"

  15. Of course we should wonder, has Ms Couric's failure at CBS to bring in an audience been a reflection of her own brand failure or a more systemic trend in declining cable viewership and apathy?

  16. Only people between the ages of 30 and 40 should be allowed to vote.

    If they own property and do not work for the government.

  17. I did not know who Katie Couric was until I saw her interview of Palin on youtube.

  18. This is possibly the most awesome comment I'll see this week....certainly it is so far:

    "If there is little prestige, honor, and future being the anchor of the No. 1 show chasing an audience that is becoming smaller, older, and is less-educated, imagine how the No. 3 anchor must have felt....


    1. My comment: "Fuck you, too, Katie!"

  19. I'd go back to watching if she would do the show with her top off. :-b

    1. She'd have to have Diane Sawyer on a St Andrews Cross for me to go back to watching. But hey, that's just me.

  20. This is my fantasy - Katie Couric on her hands and knees and me with a stick of butter in my hands Last Tango style.

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