James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Posts Tagged ‘Katie Couric’

Anchors away–not aweigh–at CBS

Posted by James McPherson on March 27, 2011

Katie Couric’s time looks to be about up at CBS, with Scott Pelley–a better journalist but less of a celebrity and much cheaper–being a possible frontrunner as her replacement.

Like it matters. Quick: Name the anchors of all three traditional nightly newscasts. Now name the three craziest people on cable “news.” Chances are you had a much easier time composing the second list, even though considerable more people actually watch network newscasts than cable news, at least for now.

That may not continue, if network news–which can’t match the train-wreck entertainment value of cable news and shouldn’t even try–doesn’t figure out the seemingly obvious, that cutting back on news content actually makes news programming less relevant. Al Jazeera has figured that out, and many of those who actually care about what’s going on in the world now rely more on Al Jazeera than on the networks.

David Letterman apparently will be sad to see Couric step down, though he revealed an old-fashioned rose-colored view of American television news when he stated:

Let me tell you something, once you take the anchor chair – that’s what you do. . . . It’s not like it’s a temp gig. Look at Walter Cronkite. Look at Tom Brokaw. Look at Brian Williams. Look at Peter Jennings. Look at all these people. They get in it, they saddle up and they ride into the sunset.

Notice the biggest name that is missing–the longtime anchor of the same network that now employs  both Couric and Letterman. Dan Rather now anchors a pretty good news show buried on a network that features such illuminating programming as Mixed Martial Arts, “Drinking Made Easy” and “Girls Gone Wild.”

Williams is probably the best anchor now working–despite his occasional (and admittedly funny) forays into the likes of “Saturday Night Live“–but having started as anchor in 1996 he’s also the only one of the three who can be considered an anchor “old timer.”

Others that Letterman–and pretty much everyone else–apparently have forgotten include the brief 2006 ABC co-anchor experiment with Elizabeth Vargas and Bob Woodruff, Charles Gibson’s three-plus years after that, and Diane Sawyer, who replaced Gibson just 15 months ago.

Bob Schieffer kept Rather’s old CBS seat warm until Couric left NBC’s blockbuster morning program, “The Today Show.” Considering that Couric apparently is now considering hosting a daytime show, perhaps she  should have kept her NBC gig. And drawing her away didn’t help CBS in the evening or hurt NBC in the morning.

The most noteworthy thing about Couric’s tenure with CBS–other than possibly the interview that best demonstrated how unqualified Sarah Palin was for national office–is that she was the first woman solo anchor for one of the “big three” nightly newscasts.

The fact that Couric broke that particular gender barrier a 22 years after Geraldine Ferraro became the first female U.S. vice presidential nominee for a major party is a shameful reflection on the news business. The fact that Couric, like Sarah Palin, was more noteworthy for her celebrity than her competence, reflects poorly on all of us.

And the fact that Couric, like Ferraro and Palin, was chosen as a desperate act  to try to reverse a losing campaign, is unfortunate. Women–and all of us–deserve better treatment.

Personal note: This is the 400th post on this blog. Thanks to all of you who have read any of it, and especially to those who have offered comments.

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Posted in History, Journalism, Women | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The way it is: Cronkite sails off

Posted by James McPherson on July 18, 2009

 The king is dead. And no, I don’t mean the seriously over-covered and probable pedophile Michael Jackson. I mean Walter Cronkite, the king of TV anchors and one of the last anchors who could legitimately be considered a true reporter.

Cronkite was the most-respected man in America during the glorious days when news mattered more than opinion on television, when we cared more about international affairs than we did about whether Brad Pitt twitters while in the restroom or his views on viewing porn at work.

In those days an anchor was expected to be first and foremost a journalist, not a refugee from a morning entertainment program or a reality show. Of course, expectations were higher then for presidential candidates, too.

Speaking of Cronkite, in my first book I noted how his replacement by Dan Rather as CBS anchor reflected changing priorities in television news, with a dramatic change in the set design to complement Rather’s skin tone and, in the words of Cronkite biographer Doug James: “CBS News temporarily worked out of its Washington studios while the entire New York set was transformed from Cronkite’s slightly worn-looking newsroom to Captain Kirk’s bridge aboard the starship Enterprise.”

Finally, speaking of my books, a personal note: I recently was honored to find that my latest book had been one of six finalists for the Frank Luther Mott/Kappa Tau Alpha Research Award for the best book on journalism and mass communication based on original research published in 2008.

I didn’t finish in the top 3 (though a friend of mine won), but as they all say at the Oscars–it’s an honor just to be nominated. Previous winners of the award (given since 1944) have included Robert McChesney, John Naisbitt and David Halberstam.

Posted in History, Journalism, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Fox, MSNBC offer semi-honest media bias; Barbara West, not so much

Posted by James McPherson on October 28, 2008

John McCain and Sarah Palin are spending much of their time bashing the mainstream media for bias, an argument that I frankly have little use for. Obviously I don’t disagree that media professionals are biased, and have written at length about that bias in my latest book (and to a lesser degree in the first one).

I do disagree that most of the media’s bias is liberal. After all, probably no modern politician has benefited more than McCain from friendly media treatment throughout his career, and I believe McCain chose Palin  largely because she was not well known but had a certain charm that might appeal to media folks willing to give her a pass on her relative lack of knowledge or experience. (I recommended back in June that he choose Palin, predicting that the resulting media coverage would be “superficial and glowing.”)

Unfortunately for McCain and Palin, the campaign at first chose to mostly hide her from the media, and the appearances they did permit (see the Katie Couric debacle) only served to highlight the candidate’s shortcomings while stunting her political and rhetorical gifts. That led to the goofy situation in which the campaign ended up trying to portray a random question from a college student as a “gotcha question” from the press. If Palin can’t handle a student’s question while she’s grabbing a Philly cheesesteak sandwich, let’s hope she’s never put in a position where Vladimir Putin can ask her a question at a state dinner.

Worse, because of Palin’s previous interviewing misadventures, now when she uses her pitbull-with-lipstick charm on the stump, she looks like a partisan hack. More people now view her unfavorably than favorably. No wonder even McCain’s buddy Joe Lieberman now says, “Thank God she’s not going to have to be president from day one.”

As for the guy at the head of the ticket press, McCain has proven not to be the macho character that the media helped create. He is neither a straight talker nor a stable influence.  Keep in mind, this is the same campaign that every day criticizes the media for “investigating Joe the Plumber,” but is incapable of uttering three sentences without blurting out the words “Joe the Plumber.” A McCain-Palin administration might be the first to eliminate the Department of Education while implementing a cabinet level position heading a new Department of Folksy Nicknames.

A lot of people complain about the obvious bias of Fox News toward conservatives or the obvious liberal bias MSNBC. I frankly don’t have a big problem with that. I think it’s good that we get a range of perspectives, which is why I force myself to watch both networks, listen to talk radio, and read (and link to) blogs of both liberals and conservatives–though admittedly the more thoughtful perspectives of National Review from the right and the Nation from the left are far more useful. Unfortunately far too many people on both sides rely only on messages from their own side.

I am more concerned about news people who try to hide their obvious biases. Far too many national news figures have previously worked for politicians (and though this is a guess, probably as many Republicans as Democrats). I’ve noted my problem with Andrea Mitchell–the wife of overrated economic apologist Alan Greenspan–working as an NBC reporter (despite the fact that she is less obviously partisan than some of her colleagues at the network). A more blatant, and much funnier, example came with Florida reporter Barbara West interviewing Joe Biden by using outlandish Republican talking-point questions that sounded as if they could have been provided to her by her husband, a former Republican media consultant.

Barbara the Talking Head did manage to get what she probably most wanted out of the interview: her own “Joe the Plumber” bit of attention, capped by appearances with Bill O’Reilly (who with no apparent sense of “pinhead” irony questioned her use of “buzzwords”) and on what may be the goofiest “news program” on television, Fox and Friends. The attention may have been too much for her employer, WFTV, which now blocks YouTube from carrying the interview after it received 1.2 million hits over the weekend.

Posted in Journalism, Media literacy, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

McCain continues ‘suspended’ campaign

Posted by James McPherson on September 25, 2008

Though John McCain announced yesterday that he was suspending his political campaign to go where he was neither wanted nor needed, to join a process where he has relatively little knowledge and even less influence, he and his surrogates are apparently trying to have their cake and eat it, too.

They say they won’t campaign, but then do it, anyway. Both McCain and Sarah Palin submitted to interviews with CBS, and McCain even tried to bring a campaign staffer to his meeting/photo op at the White House today. By contrast, Barack Obama, who made no pretense of being unable to do two things at once, was taking along just a Senate staffer.

McCain ditched (and apparently lied to) David Letterman to talk to Couric, prompting one publication to recall earlier comments about why he liked to appear on Letterman’s show: “One reason I like to go on those shows, particularly ones like Leno or Letterman, is that they help you reach a wide viewing audience that otherwise would not be paying attention to the political scene—people who would never be exposed to the Sunday-morning shows or other programs that politicians are traditionally on.”

Not only have McCain and Sarah Palin largely avoiding the media (the CBS interviews providing rare exceptions), they apparently aren’t talking enough to each other. Last night Palin did her third interview since becoming the VP nominee, and it’s hard to believe she couldn’t be more specific about something her party’s presidential nominee has done (especially since her major point seemed to be to criticize Barack Obama’s lack of specifics).

I’ve posted much of the Palin interview below–the most enlightening (and perhaps the scariest) part comes at the end of the clip, with this response to a question about specific McCain actions regarding economic oversight: “I’ll try to find some and I’ll bring ’em to ya.” Below that is a clip of last night’s David Letterman highlights.

Posted in Journalism, Politics, Video, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

McCain’s ‘no-talk express’ going where unwanted to avoid rough road

Posted by James McPherson on September 24, 2008

John McCain has spent much of his time the past couple of weeks trying to overcome his comments about “not knowing much about the economy” and–on the day the current meltdown began–about “the fundamentals” of the economy being strong. The Huffington Post’s Bob Cesca today humorously wrote that McCain’s “very serious and mavericky campaign strategy can be described in four simple words: Blurt Out Random Crap.”

Even conservative intellectual George Will has compared McCain to a “flustered rookie playing in a league too high” and Alice in Wonderland’s decapitation-happy Queen of Hearts. This week Will called McCain’s behavior “childish” while noting: “For McCain, politics is always operatic, pitting people who agree with him against those who are ‘corrupt’ or ‘betray the public’s trust,’ two categories that seem to be exhaustive–there are no other people.”

Now, despite the fact that he has had 26 years in Congress to try to help avoid the economic mess, McCain today suspended his campaign “to help negotiate a Wall Street bailout“–prompting David Letterman of all people (and doesn’t it get a bit frustrating having so much of the most relevant political commentary coming from late-night comedians?) to comment: “You don’t suspend your campaign. This doesn’t smell right. This isn’t the way a tested hero behaves.”

It seems to me that McCain recognizes that the electoral tide seems to be going against him, and he is again grasping at straws. After all, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has already said McCain’s presence would be more of a hindrance than a help. That’s assuming McCain can still find the Senate–keep in mind that this is the same guy who hasn’t cast a vote in Senate since April 8. He couldn’t even show up to vote for a Medicare bill for which even a cancer-stricken Ted Kennedy appeared.

In addition to suspending his campaign, McCain called for a postponement of his scheduled Friday night presidential debate with Barack Obama–and the vice presidential debate between Joe Biden and the suddenly helpless Sarah Palin, though Obama and debate organizers said the presidential debate, at least, would go on with or without the GOP nominee.

McCain also cancelled tonight’s appearance with Letterman. He bailed out despite the fact that the two men were in the same city (he apparently ditched Letterman for Katie Couric), and this might have been an opportunity for someone who wanted to act presidential to calm people’s fears–apparently prompting Letterman to comment, “What are you going to do if you’re elected and things get tough? Suspend being president? We’ve got a guy like that now.” Incidentally, McCain was replaced on Letterman’s show by liberal MSNBC commentator Keith Olbermann, who, oddly, might be the only person in America left who could generate sympathy for the GOP nominee.

My recommendation for when McCain should start his campaign back up: Nov. 5. After all, he’ll only be 76 for the 2012 election, he’ll have four more years to brush up on the economy (our woes probably won’t be close to over by then) and Palin will have four more years of moose-hunting experience–maybe enough time to work in a couple of press conferences and half a dozen media interviews.

Same night update: McCain’s odd “financial crisis timeline,” including an apparent visit with millionairess “financial advisor” Lynn Forester de Rothschild.

Friday update: The tide continues to rise for the McCain campaign. Today conservative columnist Kathleen Parker calls for Palin to step down because she is “clearly out of her league.” One of the most damning quotes: If BS were currency, Palin could bail out Wall Street herself.”

Posted in History, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

GOP view of Palin: pit bull or pretty little lady?

Posted by James McPherson on September 10, 2008

Barack Obama did the right thing today in pointing out the ludicrousness of the McCain campaign’s latest charges of sexisim. Of course that didn’t stop John McCain’s smear merchants from immediately launching another negative ad–complete with badly out-of-context quotes from Obama and CBS anchor Katie Couric (funny how conservatives like the “liberal media” when the message is correct, or can be twisted to appear so). The ad can be seen below. (Note: CBS insisted that the ad be removed from YouTube the same day; see below for details.)

The charges, as I noted yesterday, are shameful and disgusting. Interestingly, they’re also more insulting to Palin than Obama’s comments were, demonstrating the problem conservatives often have in dealing with women. They can’t even decide if their own vice presidential candidate is a “pit bull” ready for prime-time politics, or a “pretty little lady” beauty queen who needs to be protected as if she were some Victorian-era teen-age wife.

The subtleties of most real women, who fall between the conservative archtypes wrapped in leather and lace, escape these hapless campaigners–somethng even PUMAs are bound to realize. Between that GOP cluelessness and the fact that people will eventually remember that John McCain heads the ticket, I suspect the positive post-convention GOP numbers will soon start to decrease.

Those numbers continue to mislead, anyway. National polls may show a slight edge for McCain, but every electoral map I’ve seen–whether produced by Democrats, Republicans or neutral parties–still shows Obama with the advantage. Unless some unforeseen dramatic event occurs–and especially if the McCain campaign continues to rely on negativity, and if even conservatives can’t figure out what kind of woman Palin is–I have no problem sticking with my pre-convention prediction that Obama will win handily in November.

Same day update: That didn’t take long. CBS insisted that the ad be taken off YouTube because it is misleading. The ad still can be seen at the McCain Web site, where they aren’t such sticklers for details such as truth and fact. McCain has apparently found that he loves to wallow in the muck, just like a certain farm animal.

Same day update #2: Some conservative writers agree that the GOP “lipstick” attacks are stupid. See pieces by Kathryn Lynn Lopez and Roger Kimball.

Posted in Journalism, Media literacy, Politics, Video, Women, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »