Saturday, May 12, 2007

Blame the White Guys

By my count, white males--and in particular, white males of European descent--have been blamed for everything from global warming to homophobia. That covers a rather sizable range of social, racial, economic, political and sexual woes, causing some of us to wonder how those white guys have time for anything else.

But I digress. It now appears that white men are also responsible for yet another problem--Katie Couric's low ratings as anchor of the CBS Evening News. In an on-line chat a couple of days ago, CBS News Executive Vice-President Linda Mason opined that the perky one is having trouble attracting viewers because the audience wants the news delivered by a white guy, an preferably an older one:

I'm just surprised at how, almost 30 years after I worked on the "Evening News" as the first woman producer, that Katie is having such a tough time being accepted by the public, which seems to prefer the news from white guys, and now that Charlie's doing so well, from older white guys. I guess they want the reassurance of a Walter Cronkite.

I had no idea that a woman delivering the news would be a handicap. And I'm afraid that Katie's paying a price for being the first woman. But I think it's a great trail that she's blazing, and I think if the broadcast continues to be as good as it has been, if we continue to break news, if we continue to tell interesting stories, people will start to watch. It takes time, I think. But I was surprised that there was an obvious connection between a woman giving the news, and the audience wanting to watch it.

Could you imagine the reaction if those same comments had been uttered by, say, Rush Limbaugh? Ms. Mason and the rest of the MSM would be up in arms, citing the remarks as more proof that white men are racist/sexist/homophobic bigots. But, given Mason's long tenure as a card-carrying member of the MSM, she'll probably get a pass.

Fact is, Ms. Mason's comments are nothing more than spin, trying to mask the (obvious) failure of the Couric experiment at CBS. If Mason's assessment were correct, then women and minorities would remain rarities on the anchor desk. A quick check of the cable networks, local stations and even some network broadcasts reveals that we've moved far beyond the days when anchoring was the exclusive domain of middle-aged white guys. True, a woman has never been a long-term anchor of the network's evening newscast, but that's a reflection of the women who got a shot at the anchor desk, and not some sort of sexist plot.

Barbara Walters was a poor choice to co-anchor ABC's nightly newscast in the 1970s; her strengths were interviewing and "celebrity" journalism, skills hardly suited for a 22-minute evening newscast. Additionally, Ms. Walters delivery and speech patterns made her a target for comedians, further undermining her credibility. Walters, of course, recovered nicely from the evening news debacle, spending the ensuing decades as co-anchor of 20/20, the host of celebrity interview specials, and most recently, as creator (and co-host) of "The View." Well, I suppose two out of three isn't bad.

That's why a lot of media types were puzzled when CBS hired Couric to front its nightly news program. Like Ms. Walters, Couric was also extremely successful on NBC's "Today," show, but chit-chatting with authors, celebrities and politicians doesn't provide instant gravitas on an evening newscast. During the few times I've watched, Couric has appeared somber and serious --perhaps a little too serious, it would seem. Ratings for the CBS broadcast recently hit their lowest levels in 20 years, renewing speculation that Couric may soon be replaced.

If she gets the hook, her gender will have nothing to do with it. Instead, her reassignment will be based on the same factor that gets most anchors fired--the ratings. And, this may come as some surprise to Ms. Mason, but the Nielsens are actually irrespective of gender; in the history of network news, there have been more male anchors fired for poor ratings than female. In that respect, Ms. Couric's expected departure may be a triumph for equality, proving that a female network anchor can lose her chair just as quickly as a man.


Anonymous said...

I must be part of the problem. Ive always had trouble listening to female newscasters and women preachers (and female bloggers). I simply don't hear them, and eventually fall asleep. But male preachers and newscasters, and bloggers, get my full attention. Looks like I'm part of this major problem!

Alaska Paul said...

Of course, they cannot look inward and think that possibly, remotely, 1 in a million-ly that their agenda, biases, and sloppy, shallow reporting may.....just the cause of their approaching the drain grate.

Well, go with the flow, Katy, since you are doing so far.

shoprat said...

If Madam Hillary loses in 08 (Please Lord, Please!) it will be blamed on sexism.

I remember this old political cartoon of a conservative sitting in his office and lady journalist asking "Why do you conservatives hate powerful, independent women?" ignoring the gigantic poster of Britain's Iron Lady, former PM Thatcher, that adorned the "sexist" conservative's wall.

Ron said...

Ms. Couric is seen as a celebrity news host not as a hard news anchor. However I suspect that the ratings of the CBS broadcast has more to do with damaged credibility of the CBS news department thanks to Mr Rather than Ms Couric's lack of hard news experience.