The news leaked out Monday that Katie Couric is stepping down from her failed experiment as the anchor of the "CBS Evening News." People inside the news business greeted the news as shocking. But what's shocking is that Couric didn't get the boot years ago. CBS's ratings cratered while she earned $15 million annually.
Couric was once projected as the Great White Female Hope after Dan Rather's involuntary retirement in 2005. His numbers in his last week had dropped to a last place 8.1 million nightly audience. But what did Couric deliver?
The end may have looked near at the end of March, when CBS saw its lowest-rated first quarter among both total viewers and the prized 25-to-54 demographic since at least 1992 -- as far back as Nielsen's breakdowns for the show go. Couric was averaging only 6.4 million total viewers (and less than 2 million among viewers 25 to 54). That was way behind NBC at 9.8 million and ABC at 8.65 million.
On NPR, evening anchor Michele Norris mourned that "when you reach back to the era of Rather and Jennings and Brokaw, it seemed like getting an anchor job in the past was much like a lifetime appointment, much like a Supreme Court justice." Media reporter David Folkenflik answered that "holding one of these jobs is no longer being one of the highest priests of journalism because the notion of authoritativeness has been undermined. Even the New York Times does not command, in some ways, as absolute a voice about what is news and what isn't anymore."
It is refreshing that Americans today reject the notion that we should bow before the network TV anchormen as the most hallowed of political actors, let alone "priests of journalism." In the post-Vietnam, post-Watergate period, the media asserted themselves as a fourth branch of government, abiding by left-wing urgings to resist being "stenographers to power." So they struck their self-righteous blows against "risky" tax cuts and "foolish" wars and asserted their courage in refusing to wear flag pins.
Now they're surprised that more than half the audience has rejected them. So much for the high priests of authoritativeness.
The media elite's rhetoric about rejecting the "stenographers to power" label sounds most ridiculous when facing one of their heroes. There was perky Couric, grinning and bowing before President Obama on July 22, 2009. "You're so confident, Mr. President, and so focused," she blushed. "Is your confidence ever shaken? Do you ever wake up and say, 'Damn, this is hard. Damn, I'm not going to get the things done I want to get done, and it's just too politicized to really get accomplished the big things I want to accomplish'?"