Katie Couric continues as America’s Victim at CBS. Last month, CBS VP Linda Mason told its Public Eye blog that Couric’s lack of success came from an innate sexism in the America, which she said preferred to get its news “from white guys”. Yesterday, CBS made that their official stance when CEO Les Moonves told a Newhouse School of Communications group that people don’t want their news from a woman (via Memeorandum):
Leslie Moonves, CBS chief executive, on Tuesday suggested that sexist attitudes were partly to blame for the faltering performance of Katie Couric, the news anchor he recruited to the network with a $15m annual pay package.
“I’m sort of surprised by the vitriol against her. The number of people who don’t want news from a woman was startling,” Mr Moonves said of the audience’s reaction to Ms Couric, who this month brought ratings for the CBS Evening News to a 20-year low.
He reiterated, however, that he was committed to Ms Couric and that he believed her programme would succeed in spite of its last place standing behind rivals ABC and NBC. …
Ms Couric has managed a 2 per cent increase in women age 18 to 49 since her September debut. However, that has been more than offset by an 11 per cent decline among men over 55, who still constitute the bulk of the evening news’ audience.
Apparently, the decline in that last demographic has fueled the bunker mentality at CBS that paints Couric as the victim of a Neanderthal reaction. However, Moonves in the same speech acknowledged that CBS moved away from “hard news” when they replaced Bob Schieffer with Couric in favor of an emphasis on human-interest stories. Not only did that not attract a large following among younger viewers, but it turned off people who watch news to see … news. Given CBS’ poor demos on younger viewers anyway, even the 2% increase comes as a result of having almost nowhere to go but up.
However, admitting that CBS blew it when they screwed up the formula for the show would put the blame on Moonves for the failure. Admitting that they overpaid for Couric, who apparently brought very little of her Today audience with her to CBS, would also make Moonves look like an idiot. Therefore, Moonves and his team at CBS want to shift blame to the people they supposedly serve — the audience. It’s a strange strategy. Does Moonves really think that he can attract new viewers by accusing them of being chauvinist pigs?
It makes no sense, in any case. Plenty of women successfully anchor local news shows in big-market cities. They don’t appear to have problems with women reporting in any corner of the nation. CBS had Connie Chung co-anchoring with Dan Rather for a while (1993-95). They didn’t can her because the audience abandoned them — she got canned because Rather got jealous over her assignments, and also because Chung acted insensitively towards the Oklahoma City Fire Department in the wake of the 1995 bombing of the Murrah building. ABC has had Barbara Walters anchor the news for a brief period, and many women have featured roles on prominent news magazines, such as CBS’ Leslie Stahl and ABC’s Diane Sawyer.
Even if it were true — which it isn’t — then Moonves is still an idiot. Does he mean to inform Viacom shareholders that he gave Couric a $15 million salary without testing to see whether her gender would be a factor? I call BS. Somewhere, CBS has an entire file cabinet of focus group responses to Couric and/or a generic woman anchoring the nightly news. It would have either shown that the CBS Evening News would tank, if Moonves is correct about the high level of sexism, or it would show that it makes no difference.
If the former, then Moonves is a poor executive for making that kind of investment in a losing proposition. If the latter — which is a certainty — then the fault lies not with the audience, but with CBS for airing a stinker of a news broadcast. Moonves should stop spending so much time blaming his audience for their taste, and spend more time fixing his organization and the show.