A Woman on the Verge

Hosted by

For KCRW, I'm Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun with Minding the Media.

Katie Couric is not going crazy. At least not yet.

In the 11 months since she became the first woman to anchor a major network news show, nothing seems to have gone right.

Although more than 13 million people tuned in for her first broadcast on the CBS Evening News last September, catapulting her into first place in the news ratings, the honeymoon lasted only a few weeks. By mid-October, the broadcast had slipped back to third.

By May, the show's ratings bottomed out at 5.5 million a night, the lowest in two decades, according to a long story about Couric in the current issue of New York magazine.

"A distant third behind ABC's Charles Gibson and NBC's Brian Williams, Couric is, for the first time in her storied career, losing," reporter Joe Hagan writes in the magazine, whose cover shows a downcast Couric posing the question, "Oh my God, What did I do?"

But, after interviewing her, Hagan says Couric "doesn't look like a woman embattled," even if, as she admits, she lost her cool last month and slapped her news editor around.

"I'm not a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown," she tells Hagan. And yet her "usual cheerfulness is interrupted by flashes of anger, disappointment, and even confusion about what is happening to her career at CBS News," Hagan writes.

Couric admits that "there's blood in the water and I've got some vulnerabilities."

Hagan writes that CBS president Les Moonves "wanted to attract new audiences to the evening news by making it more like entertainment."

Moonves told Couric he would spend whatever it took to make it successful. But Couric's reported $15 million salary infuriates people at CBS News who say it takes up a huge chunk of a declining news budget, often forcing correspondents (including Couric herself) to stay at home.

At least ten Evening News correspondents and producers have been dismissed in the last year, Hagan says. He quotes one angry CBS News producer as saying, "There's not a lot of money there because we're paying for Katie!... She's soaking up the money and she's not making any money."

Meanwhile, her predecessor Dan Rather, freed from such constraints, traveled to Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, Sweden and France to investigate a story that will air tonight at 8 on HDNet, his new employer.

The story is being pitched as an "in-depth look into reports that the CIA may be seeking to destabilize the Iranian Government."

That's the kind of story that Couric, who spent 15 years on the Today show, has rarely, if ever, done.

The idea of a celebrity anchor, Hagan says, "was particularly grating for some old-school newshounds" on CBS's staff "who thought an anchorship should be earned through a career of field reporting, like Rather and Peter Jennings did."

In April, The Philadelphia Inquirer 's Gail Shister quoted anonymous CBS staffers as saying Couric would be leaving, although the network denies it.

"It's a disaster," a correspondent said. "CBS may not cut her loose, but I guarantee you, somebody's thinking about it."

On Salon.com today, Rebecca Traister responds to the New York magazine story by writing that, "Suddenly, the woman who used to refuse to talk to reporters about her astronomical salary and hard-bargaining skills... cannot shut up about everything that's gone wrong since she left NBC for CBS!"

"Oh, girlfriend: Get a grip," Traister says. "Tell them all that everything is going just exactly as you planned, that you couldn't be more proud of your program or more confident about your decisions. It might be a crock, but if you start to believe it, then maybe the rest of us will too. And maybe that's the only way, at this point, that you can win."

This is Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun, Minding the Media on KCRW.



Nick Madigan