Kathleen Parker

It is axiomatic that when you reach the summit, people will try to take you down. Witness history, and now, Katie Couric.

The rising "CBS Evening News" anchor, who is trying to shed her morning "perk" for evening gravitas, has been dissected, analyzed, criticized, labeled, niched and positioned to within an inch of her life.

Can she do it? Of course she can. Can she talk? And how. Can she conduct an interview? Yes, of course, but we'll probably have to forgo the legs.

See what I mean? I hate it when I do that.

But let's face it, when you appear on television wearing a short skirt and high heels, revealing gams only a personal trainer can buy, you invite commentary. Couric can't have wished it otherwise, and there are worse things than being noted for great legs.

Such as having a public colonoscopy. There I go again. In fairness to my inner feline, certain acts invite objective criticism, and surely having a colonoscopy in front of millions of television viewers qualifies.

At the time, I wrote a column critical of Couric's now-legendary probe and was rewarded with a slapdown by hundreds of her fans, including my mother, who saw only courageous public service in the televised procedure.

That is to say, Couric has the sort of base any politician would envy. Her fans may tilt toward the taupe end of the age demographic, but that's called a majority these days as increasing numbers of baby boomers enjoy senior discounts.

To put an end to any speculation, I'm pulling for Katie. She's paid her dues and earned her place at the big table. The idea that a woman is somehow less acceptable in a "serious" role is silly on its face and otherwise is the stuff of Taliban fantasy.

That said, the decision to send Couric around the country on a "listening tour," scheduled to wrap up Monday, was a poor calculation. First off, the free-associative mind goes straight to that other trailblazing female, Hillary Clinton, who launched a listening tour before running for U.S. Senate.

Katie, Hillary, Katie, Hillary - two liberal peas in a pod? The question burrows in the mind and wants to stay.

And what's with this listening shtick, anyway? Couric isn't running for public office. Being an anchor isn't an elected position, though viewers ultimately will vote with their remotes. But shouldn't a newsperson be about the news rather than about the person?

The fact of the tour, which is taking Couric to six cities in order to expose her to what the media like to call "Ordinary Americans," merely confirms what those same Americans already dislike about the media - and especially about media personalities on the celebrity level of a Couric.

That is, Couric and others who decide what Americans should know are out of touch with real (preferable to "ordinary") Americans - the ones trying to raise families with familiar values, who volunteer to serve in the military, and who believe that the media are working against the country's best interests.

If you only talk to others like you, which is the case for many journalists inside the media centers of New York and Washington, you begin to think that everyone thinks - or should think - as you do. The joke in the green room, where talking heads gather before the food fight, is the guy who says, "I've been out there! I've got the pulse (of Ordinary America)."

Which means he flew to Topeka that morning, parked himself at the counter of the Roadkill Cafe during lunchtime, interviewed a few locals, and flew back to D.C. in time for "Scarborough Country."

Couric's tour has the same feel. The girl has pizzazz enough to bottle and sell on eBay and the kind of charisma that will get her through red and blue America with Clintonian (Bill's) effect. But what she'll learn along the way shouldn't come as a surprise.

Most Americans want one thing with their evening newscast - news.

The old-fashioned kind that offers depth and context without spin. Straight reporting without commentary, implicit or otherwise. News that respects viewers' intelligence and allows them to draw their own conclusions.

With all the talk shows and galaxies of opinionators orbiting the blogosphere, the world is not starved for commentary. What's most critical to the mix - indeed what drives the rest - comes down to three words: reporting, reporting, reporting.

All Couric has to do to set herself apart from the pack is dig deep and tell it like it is. The rest is opinion. And, as Couric once so vividly reminded us, opinions are like colons. Everybody's got one.


Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
 
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