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October 2006

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Beast of the Month - October 2006

Katie Couric, CBS News Anchor

"I yam an anti-Christ..."

John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) of The Sex Pistols, "Anarchy in the UK"

Five years after 9/11, and where are things back in the USA? Currently, Congress has pushed through legislation to legalize torture by the US government. Meanwhile, the right-wing lie machine is trying to spin away the whole Valerie Plame Treasongate affair by pinning the blame on an "accidental" leak by Richard Armitage, and ABC has broadcast The Path to 9/11, a "dramatization" (originally classified as a "docudrama") which clearly distorted the path to 9/11 with a blatant pro-Bush slant (unsurprising, since director David L. Cunningham and writer/producer Cyrus Nowrasteh are two of the top up-and-coming conservatives in Hollywood.) Times like these takes someone with the courage and honesty to speak the truth, to call a spade a spade. Or, at the very least, someone with a great pair of legs.

Perhaps it seems obtuse to criticize the mainstream media at a time when the so-called "alternative" press is proving its own lack of worth. (For example, why is Alternet, a top site for supposed alternative views, more fixated on discrediting 9/11 conspiracies than questioning the official story of the tragedy? Here's the title to three articles from the site last month to give you a clue of the discourse: "9/11 Conspiracy Fantasies", "Enough of the 9/11 Conspiracy Theories, Already" & the extremely clever "The Idiocy Behind the '9/11 Truth' Movement".) Still, the bankruptcy of the korporate media, though neither new nor surprising, has a new stellar example in the rise to the CBS anchor desk of Katie Couric, The Konformist Beast of the Month..

Even after Dan Rather, the role of CBS News anchor is clearly the most honored and respected title in the field of television news, thanks to the reign of Walter Cronkite (who is still labeled as "the most trusted man in America.") So when CBS announced it was hiring Ms. Couric to take over, it became big news itself. After twenty-plus years where Rather, Tom Brokaw and the late Peter Jennings had been the big three faces for network news, the next generation was now firmly in place with Katie joining ABC's Charles Gibson and NBC's Brian Williams as the new kids on the block. Of further note, Couric is the first solo female anchor to hold one of the big three spots.

It's hard to predict completely how these three will turn out, yet it's clear that out of the gates, Couric is the rock star of the group, as even her critics concede. Gibson and Williams are, at best, bland non-entities, yet Couric does have a magnetism developed over her fifteen-plus years as Today Show co-anchor. It is this magnetism that has earned her new job, with a $15 million annual salary to boot.

That said most of her appeal is pure froth. Of special note is her previously referred to pair of legs. Accentuated by her choice of short skirts, she is more famous for her Betty Grable gams than her brains. (In fact, when she guest-hosted The Tonight Show in 2003, they took away Jay Leno's usual desk and installed one which revealed her lower limbs.) We'll grant her that, even pushing fifty, she's indeed a very attractive women (though if that's the only criteria for female newscasters at this point, we'll take Soledad O'Brien or Jillian Barberie over her any day of the week.) Still, with those legs and her perky smile, she seems a better candidate for homecoming queen than a news anchor.

Not that the generation she, Gibson and Williams are replacing was that great. The best of the trio, Jennings, was a perceptive, intelligent man who could say more with a slightly raised eyebrow than others could in an entire half hour - which made his regular silence on serious events and issues (when truth needed to be told) all the more indicting. Rather would sometimes cover a story that would challenge sectors of the elite (often with embarrassing results, most notably the Killian documents controversy that clouded his fumbling end) but this was the exception for his usual role as an establishment ass-smoocher. The worst of the bunch, Brokaw, was someone who left no evidence he ever bucked the conventional wisdom in his entire career, though he admittedly had a great head of hair. (Perversely, from the late 90's to his retirement, NBC under Brokaw had the highest rating of the three.)

All told, even at their best, Brokaw, Jennings and Rather hardly lived up to their predecessors. And one doesn't need to wallow in delusional myth-making to realize that there was some major substance to the television journalists that preceded them. The reason Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow are so revered is that when times demanded them to speak up, they did (Cronkite on Vietnam, Murrow either in exposing Joseph McCarthy or his "Harvest of Shame" report on the plight of US migrant farm workers.) This was no accident: no matter how successful or famous they became, Murrow, Cronkite and other stellar newsmen of the previous generation identified more with the common man and his problems than those of the elites (a condition which can likely be credited to the Great Depression.) Compare that to the collective image of the modern-day anchorman: a self-satisfied, jet-setting superstar who seemingly pronounces what is news rather than report it, all the while earning an eight-figure annual income. The difference is as vast as comparing Johnny Cash to Kid Rock.

So where does Katie fit in this mix? While earning $15 million isn't a sin, it's apparent she knows which side of the bread her butter is on. Still, perhaps a situation will appear that will demand the best of her, and like CNN's Anderson Cooper during Hurricane Katrina, she will step up to the plate with courage. We're betting against her, though. In fact, by her own words, she has no interest in sticking out her own neck: when asked in May if she would report from Iraq, Couric replied, "I think the situation there is so dangerous, and as a single parent with two children, that's something I won't be doing." For all their blow-dried puffery, neither Brokaw or Rather would flinch at that request. Neither would Jane Pauley, Barbara Walters, Jessica Savitch or even Connie Chung (proving Couric’s lack of worth as a female icon.)

Of course, The Konformist bet against her in Vegas is already paying off. Though, thanks to the hype machine, CBS topped the ratings the first two weeks after her September 5 debut (though, significantly, they finished third on the fifth anniversary of 9/11, when presumably more "serious" news was expected than she appears capable of delivering) they fell to second in her third week, and then to dead last the following two weeks. That's a pretty quick slide. Perhaps she can recover, but if things keep going this way, poor Katie the Anchor may be television's biggest bust since the XFL. It couldn't happen to a more deserving woman.

In any case, we salute Katie Couric as Beast of the Month.. Congratulations, and keep up the great work, Katie!!!


The Konformist

Robert Sterling

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Los Angeles, California 90024-0825

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