Does the Couric story have legs?

hc couricWell now, it seems that I was not alone in thinking that the Katie Couric announcement was a landmark event or even a sea change for the network nightly news shows.

People want to know: Is this the triumph of infotainment? Is this an open admission that someone needs to create the left-wing Fox News?

I freely admit that I am all but alone, so far, in connecting the Couric bias issue to religion and the lightning-rod issues that go with it, such as abortion rights, euthanasia and the redefining of marriage. Most people on the right prefer to say that she is merely biased, period.

Again let me stress: I am not saying that Couric is anti-religion. She is not “secular.” She merely clashes with traditional forms of religion.

Truth is, I have met very few secularists in American life (although their numbers are growing, as stressed in that Atlantic MonthlyTribal Relations” piece that I keep urging GetReligion readers to consume). The issue is Couric’s long history of pouncing on culture-war issues while letting her freak flag fly (to paraphrase David Crosby, one of my favorite oldie musicians).

Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal (source of the line drawing) summed up the bias story this way: Couric’s rise buries the idealistic claim that news anchors can serve as neutral voices in the public square.

In days past, whatever we suspected about their leanings, anchorpersons felt compelled at least to pose as disinterested reporters of “the way it is.” Ms. Couric dropped that veil long ago. The list of her utterances and leading questions posted on the Media Research Center’s fretful Web site … may not fully represent the range of her opinions and peeves. Unless she’s a total fake on camera, though, there’s little doubt about where Katie stands across the great red-blue divide. Democrats and their pet causes get tender respect; Republican and “conservative” policies get introduced in terms of the alleged threat they represent to our great nation.

Arguably, it’s better to know this and be done with the illusion of true neutrality. There are so many information outlets available now that alert consumers can choose to avoid newscasters whose judgment they don’t trust or shows with an unwanted political slant.

Here is the more interesting question to me: Do liberal or progressive viewers actually want perky Couric as their official voice on moral and social issues? I mean, don’t you think it’s rather hard to see her sitting in one of the top chairs at PBS or NPR?

This is that gravitas issue that people keep writing about, and there is more to this than her age, gender and decades of loyal mass-media service to pushing pop culture, fashion, parades, sports bras and fad diets.

I mean, Couric is a liberal’s liberal. But do the liberal consumers want to embrace her? Is she one of their best and the brightest? Hey, all of you ordained mainline women: Is Katie a winner for you? All of you professors in cutting-edge women’s studies departments: Do you care if CBS puts Katie behind a desk that displays her legs? Do you mind if she walks around on a set, while the men are displayed more modestly? Does any of this matter, so long as she keeps the faith on sexual revolution issues?

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Michael

    Keep attacking her as a “liberal’s liberal” and “perky,” and a liberal/progressive viewers are going to run to her defense. Attacks from the cultural right tend to be proof that a person has “arrived” and is a sincere threat.

    If I have to choose between Couric and Brit Hume, I’d argue Couric is able to put her biases aside much easier than Mr. Hume. I’m not even sure that I necessarily KNEW she was a liberal, were it not for the attack dogs at MRC insistence that she is. I just thought she asked tough questions, you know, the kind of things journalists do.

    What strikes me is the fairly subtle sexism in the attacks. All this talk of legs, lack of “gravitas,” and infotainment smacks of some subtle–or not too subtle–sexism. Would they say the same thing about Matt Lauer? What if Charlie Gibson left Good Morning, America?

    Couric isn’t the “liberal” official voice on moral and social issues, as far as I know and as far as I’ve heard in my liberal/progressive circles. It’s not like she substtitues on Air America. The same can’t be said for FOX anchors.

    Maybe spending all that time watching Fox News has skewed the cultural conservative perception of what is appropriate and what to expect. Because cultural conservatives admit Fox is so biased, they assume the rest of the MSM is the same, even if it isn’t.

  • http://churchforstarvingartists.blogspot.com/ Jan Edmiston

    My understanding is that — for what it’s worth — Couric grew up in a Presbyterian Church in Arlington, VA and is currently an active member of Brick Presbyterian Church in NYC.

    I’m thinking that if she seems secular, it’s because she’s trying to deliver the news with as little of her personal bias as possible.

  • Michael

    But she’s a wealthy, female New Yorker, thus it’s assumed she’s a secularist, and a liberal’s liberal, and lack gravitas. :)

  • tmatt

    Is there anything in the piece that even remotely suggests that I called her “secular”? In fact, I said the opposite. Her membership in a mainline Protestant church would be totally consistent with the thesis of the post — she is a liberal’s liberal on moral and cultural issues. That is the niche.

    I was also amazed to discover that I am the first to call her perky.

  • http://www.lightreflected.org prof B

    Michael, there seems to me a clear difference between Lauer and Gibson, who seem more comfortable with hard news and Couric, who seems more at home dishing about fashion on Today. I know all three do that stuff, but that seems to be her forte. Not anything wrong with it–but not exactly the stuff that qualifies you for the news chair. Neither are what can only be called attacks on conservative guests.

    TMatt– there is a liberal alternative to Fox News–actually there are 4: ABC, CBS, NBC, and CNN. I realize there’s a slight difference–the 4 go further to describe their bias, but they’re every bit as much so.

  • Michael

    Seriously, Terry, liberal’s and progressives don’t really spend a lot of time worrying about the ideological beliefs of news anchors, outside of Fox. That’s really much more a conservative obssession. I can’t ever recall a conversation or an article in the liberal press dissecting this issue or even thinking much of it.

    Admittedly, it’s probably because we assume everyone is a liberal or at least a moderate. Or because we assume that MSM journalists are able to shelter their biases. Most liberals look at the attacks on the Clintons, the coverage of Whitewater, the attacks on liberal causes, and failure to question the Bush adminstration as signs that the press isn’t necessarily “iiberal” and that those delivering it aren’t “a liberal’s liberal.”

    It never occurred to me that Couric was a liberal’s liberal. She went to a conservative public university, she’s not identified with any liberal causes, and she seems to ask tough and soft questions of everyone.

  • Michael

    Michael, there seems to me a clear difference between Lauer and Gibson, who seem more comfortable with hard news and Couric, who seems more at home dishing about fashion on Today.

    Which is interesting, since Lauer has almost no hard-news experience, while Couric has years of hard-news experience, including being the Pentagon correspondent on NBC Nightly news. Lauer has done almost no reporting and his entire career is as an interviewier/light news guy.

    So why the perception that he’s hard news while she’s fashion–despite the fact he does most of the cooking segments? Is sexism at play?

  • billy

    didnt know she was liberal. but if that ticks off the culture of corruption perverts, more power to her. she has my support now.

  • Deac

    The “subtle sexism” charge seems unwarranted. It’s ABC that chose to emphasize leg, perkiness, etc. It’s not sexism to notice what ABC was doing.

  • c.tower

    If I were an American, I’d be more upset with the general dumbing down of the news then “bias”, left OR right.You know what the REAL problem with Fox News is? Lack of actual news. When it first arrived up here, it was just in time to show it’s nonstop, wall-to-wall coverage of the Terri schiavo “Death Watch”- and the eager leap over to the Pope JP II “Death Watch”.Despite the serious nature of this things, there was a palpable excitement on the part of the Fox “news team”. In time, I learned the REAL reason for this… that the only thing they’re set up to do is “canned news”- deathwatches, celebrity trials, or the AFTERMATH of a major event. The same is true of CNN, of course; MSNBC has a LITTLE bit more credibility, but I suspect that’s mostly because of it’s ties to a “mainstream” news organisation over at NBC. But in terms of actual JOURNALISM- traditional investigative reporting that uncovers a story- Fox is, from what I’ve seen, simply NOT INTERESTED… not when they can fill up airtime with endless “punditry”,”soft news”, and the occasional leak from their buddies in the White House.Is Katie Couric cut out for “Hard News”? Compared to those who are complaining about her, she could toss softballs and STILL look like Cronkite…

  • Stephen A.

    While I have to say evidence for liberal bias is overwhelming, c.tower is completely right about U.S. news outfits, especially (sad to say) FOX News.

    Car chases, “death watches,” political shouting matches and the latest missing girl are NOT “news.” While it pains me to say it, at least CNN has a decent international beat, and they do cover religion and politics around the world far better than FOX. Somewhere along the line, someone over there got news and entertainment mixed up.

    “80 Seconds Around the World” – a regular segment at FOX – does not a newscast make, especially when much of the 80 secs are spent on “spectacular” video, cute animals and obviously NO deep analysis of international events. At least CNN has a decent afternoon program wrapping up the world’s news, and they give far more throughout the day and night than FOX or even MSNBC. It’s just too bad CNN can’t find a conservative voice or two to counter the torrent of liberal voices they insist on pushing (and not Sens. McCain and Hagel. Pulleeze! I said “conservative.”)

    (I hope I’m not excommunicated from Conservatism for praising CNN here. Just hoping to give a bit of “Shock Treatment” to FOX!)

    p.s. Did anyone see the piece on CNN about the Scientologist “quiet birthing” technique yesterday? It was quite positive.

  • Lee

    I will now be watching the “Today” show for the first time since Ms. Couric interviewing the Arkansas Governor and others such as Charlton Heston following the Jonesboro (AR) school shooting in 1998. She lost the edge on those interviews and became so incensed once that she actually twitched with anger and bias. To me, Ms. Couric jumping from “Today” to CBS Evening News is a blessing because I’ve refused to view or listen to her since 1998. I hate to miss-out on Mr. Williams however, as he has been refreshing since Desert Storm. Ms. Couric and Jane Fonda from the past are two of a kind. Since the Vietnam era, I still refuse to see or hear anything about Ms. Fonda too.

  • Herb

    What do we expect from TV? “Infotainment” is the right word, or as I think Malcom Muggeridge called it, newsack. TV people don’t get anything; they are chosen on the basis of looks and “charisma,” nothing else.

  • David

    Michael said: Admittedly, it’s probably because we assume everyone is a liberal or at least a moderate.

    GR should have posted that good, ol’ United States of Canada map for this story. Outside of the MSM, I assume most everyone is conservative or modderate (but then, I grew up in west Texas before moving to “liberal California.”) Interestingly though, if you look at the County by County election results in California, it is conservative – on moral issues – everywhere outside of the high density population centers of the Bay Area and Los Angeles.

  • Jason

    You’ve met very few secularists in American life? I find that rather amazing. Granted, I currently attend a public university, but even when I was out in the work world most people I knew did not attend church on a regular basis and I knew many who did not attend at all.