Can Katie Couric survive as the anchor of the CBS Evening News? According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the answer is no. An article by Inquirer staffer Gail Shister points to the fact that the CBS newscast is now firmly in third place, with ratings continuing to fall. Her immediate predecessor, Bob Schieffer who took on the anchor job as a temporary measure, actually had much higher ratings. Thus, concludes the Inquirer, it’s only a matter of time before Couric will be shown the door.

Morale at CBS News is said to be low – not only because Couric commands a $15 million annual salary, but because of her self-annointed celebrity status. “From the moment she walked in here, she held herself above everybody else,” the Inquirer quotes one CBS staffer. “We had to live up to her standards.” Indeed, Couric arrived with her own assemblage of producers, assistants, and bookers. “She sees herself as a star and thinks the whole news department is here to serve her,” another staffer told the Inquirer. In addition to the position of anchor, Couric’s agent also parleyed the title of Managing Editor for her, and secured her correspondent’s position on CBS’s renowned “60 Minutes.”

The displeasure with Couric’s grants stemmed not so much from the money and titles, but from a belief that her talents as an interviewer on NBC’s “Today” show were not necessarily transferable to the anchor desk. Said one NBC producer, “It’s like asking a centerfielder to pitch. It’s the same game, but requires totally different skills.” The executive director of Women and Media in the News, Jennifer Pozner, says the results would have been the same, had CBS hired Couric’s co-anchor on “Today,” Matt Lauer. Translation: Couric’s travails at CBS are not the result of gender bias.

Then there is the issue of bad press – or at least bad tabloid press. Couric decided that once a week she would beguile the TV audience with memories of her childhood. It was soon revealed that these personal reminiscences were being created by a ghost writer. Even worse, the writer was found guilty of plagiarism, further damaging Couric’s credibility and raising the specter of ethical deception on the part of the network.

A less serious piece of publicity floating around is Couric’s romantic involvement with a handsome New York East Sider, Brooks Perlin, who is 17 years her junior. This has caused the tabloids, The New York Post among them, to refer to her as “Couric the Cougar,” cougar being a saucy term for older women who devour younger men. In addition to being the son of a wealthy financier, Perlin also competes in triathlons - running, swimming, and cycling, usually finishing with respectable results.

So we now come full circle to the question of whether Katie Couric has paid any dividends on CBS’s multibillion dollar investment. If ratings are the answer – and ratings determine how much an advertiser will pay for a TV commercial – the answer again seems to be no. Couric has achieved what any broadcast journalist can only fantasize about: earning more money in a year than most of us will earn in several lifetimes; and, being the centerpiece of what led to CBS’s christening as “the Tiffany network” years ago.”

As TIME magazine noted in its cover story on Couric: “After all those Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parades, some critics have wondered whether she has the ballast to, as the job title says, anchor a newscast. Her real challenge is to keep viewers interested in the news even after she has stopped being it.”

– Chase.Hamil

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