Ed Driscoll

'Within TV There’s Such A Premium Put On Not Being A Reporter'

Between Don Imus’s meltdown, and Katie Couric’s plagiarism scandal (or her producer if you’re charitable), a few more curtains have been pulled back on the MSM this week.

Ed Morrissey explores the latter incident:

Plagiarism is the secondary scandal here. CBS has apologized for lifting the material, and the Journal has graciously accepted it. The primary scandal is the marketing of Couric as a journalist, attempting to boost her credibility and her likability with these articles written by staffers. They want to prop her up as a replacement for Rather, who despite his many faults actually worked as a reporter for many years before the anchor gig.The irony comes from the fact that even with all of these efforts to build Katie into a reporter, the public still finds Couric and CBS less than credible. Her ratings tanked shortly after joining CBS as the anchor as the Tiffany Network switched to softer news on her arrival. Now that the plagiarism has pulled back the green curtain, Couric is exposed as an empty suit — emptier even than her colleagues on network news broadcasts. She’s the new gold standard for phoniness.

Only now is Katie exposed as an empty suit? Maybe I’m misreading his post, but it seems like Ed is genuinely surprised that Katie doesn’t write her own copy.

I think the Anchoress nailed the difference between Katie and her predecessors at the anchor desk in late February when she wrote:

I never thought I would say it, but I miss Dan Rather. I may not have agreed with him much of the time toward the end, but he had a curious mind, a willingness to ask questions and he possessed a voice and presence that conveyed…oh…gravitas.

I think that properly defines the role of an anchorperson–he or she, very much like an actor or actress, is paid to generate emotion and empathy, the byproduct of which is that feeling of gravitas that the Anchoress mentioned.

Walter Cronkite gave the game away inadvertendly in this article from last year, after the RatherGate scandal peaked:

Cronkite did not heavily fault Rather for his role in last September’s discredited story about President Bush’s military service. Rather anchored the “60 Minutes Wednesday” story.”We all know he made a mistake by now,” Cronkite said. “But would we have done much the same? I would not be sure that I wouldn’t have followed my producers and accepted what they had to offer.”

Or as Tom Wolfe said a quarter of a century ago:

Within the television news operations there’s such a premium put on not being a reporter. Everyone aspires to the man who never has to leave the building, the anchor man, who is a performer. The reporters are called researchers and are usually young women, and the correspondent on television is a substar, a supporting actor who prides himself on the fact that he doesn’t have to prepare the story. You talk to these guys and they’ll say, “Well, they sent me from Beirut to Teheran, and I had forty-five minutes to get briefed on the situation.” What they should say is, “I read the AP copy.” The idea is that as a performer you can pull together this news operation anywhere you go and the whole status structure is set up in such a way that you’re not going to get good reporters. Just try to think of the last major scoop, to use that old term, that was broken on television. I’m sure there have been some. But what story during Watergate? During Watergate there were new stories coming out every day. None were on television, except when television simply broadcast the hearings. The can do a set event. And that’s what television is actually best at. In fact, it’d be a service to the country if television news operations were shut down totally and they only broadcast hearings, press conferences and hockey games. That would be television news. At least the public would not have the false impression that it’s getting news coverage.

Like numerous Hollywood actresses, Katie looks great on camera and can generate emotion and empathy in her audience, which is why she gets the big bucks. Nobody should be surprised that she isn’t the second coming of Edward R. Murrow.

Finally, regarding Imus, Betsy Newmark and Michelle Malkin note two of the hypocrisies remaining from the scandal: the same corporations on the level of NBC-owning General Electric who are willing to ignore “years of over-the-line racial, sexual and gender satire on the show and only popping up when the usual suspects demand blood” as Politico noted yesterday, have no problem shelling out fat (sorry, phat) recording contracts to rap stars who regularly use even worse language. (Forget the Tarantino double-standard. Hollywood certainly has.)

Similarly, NBC, and a whole host of politicians and journalists have looked the other way for years at Imus’ antics, using his show as a promotional vehicle. (It may feel hip, but it’s not exactly a ratings machine.) And as Jeff Greenfield says today, apparently, “To stay away from [Imus’] show when he gets in serious and deserved trouble, seems to me the ultimate act of hypocrisy and cowardice”.

Hypocrisy and cowardice? They’re selling that by the gallon in the media this week, as the Red Queen’s Race to the bottom rolls on. Something tells me we haven’t even come close to “the ultimate act” yet.

Update: Welcome Insta-Readers; brief Imus update here, including Media Bistro’s scoop that MSNBC is apparently cutting Imus loose.