For example, in 2000, ABC News selected Leonardo DiCaprio to interview Bill Clinton about the environment for Earth Day. The staff, including Sam Donaldson, and outside critics erupted in a barrage of outrage. How dare ABC suggest that a dim-bulb movie star can do the same job as a seasoned journalist? The defensiveness was telling. Because the truth is that most news readers are little more than actors. That's one reason so many attractive young women want to be an actress/model/news anchor when they grow up.
Consider Barbara Walters. In the '70s and '80s, it was drummed into us that she was the Susan B. Anthony of American journalism. Even today, whenever her bona fides as a serious journalist are questioned, she gets her hackles up and plays the angered feminist. Then she returns to asking Hollywood movie stars what kind of tree they would be if they could be a tree and hosting that paragon of Cafe Vienna Moment journalism, "The View."
Indeed, the current host of "The View," Meredith Vieira, is NBC's first choice to replace Couric. Vieira has another job: She hosts the daytime version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" Ms. Vieira's official bio touts up front that she won a Daytime Emmy as a game show host and buries the fact she won five real Emmys for her work as a "60 Minutes" reporter.
As co-host of the "Today" show, Couric seamlessly moves from hosting a fashion show to baking ladyfingers to discussing Social Security reform. The only thing that distinguishes her "news" personality from her work as a cruise director is which camera she looks into and how she pitches her voice. Often it's difficult to tell the difference. She began one interview thusly: "When I got this assignment I thought, 'Whoa, slow news day!' But the importance of the sports bra to American women can't be overemphasized."
Again, on the merits, none of this is that bothersome if you don't take television news too seriously. What is bothersome is how seriously television journalists take themselves.