But, in fact, “news content” was there. (Maybe Shales was too distracted by CBS’ chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan to notice. Logan, who has over a decade’s worth of experience reporting from war zones, kicked off Tuesday night’s broadcast with an investigative piece from Afghanistan on the resurgence of the Taliban. Shales reduced Logan to an “intensely telegenic reporter who serves as foreign correspondent” and dismissed her report as “largely about her” as she “tippy-toe[d] … through a minefield, led by a guide.”) In addition to “news content” from Afghanistan, Couric’s debut broadcast included five “news of the day” reports — four of which were also covered during NBC’s Tuesday night broadcast and three of which also ran on ABC. True, the other two networks aired more “news content” than CBS overall (ABC, for example, noticed that a winner had been declared in Mexico’s presidential election), while CBS made time for new innovations such as the Andy Rooney-esque spoken op-ed segment, “freeSpeech” (which, deservedly, was roundly panned). Shales also grumbled that “a so-so human-interest piece” (about an artist who delivers portraits to orphans around the world) “by Steve Hartman, the schmaltz king, closed the show.” Perhaps Shales found NBC’s concluding Tuesday night segment on “preserving America’s barns” more compelling? Or ABC’s final story on “a new film” about “the Nixon era’s secret effort to quiet a Beatle [John Lennon]” more worthy?
Another new CBS innovation, called “Snapshots,” consisted Tuesday night of Couric sharing an “exclusive” look at the photos of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes’ baby published in the just-out-yesterday issue of Vanity Fair. Forget bad news judgment (which this undoubtedly was), this struck us as bad judgment in general — an invitation for everyone to say, “Told you so. It’s Today all over again.” To wit, the Miami Herald’s Garvin on “Snapshots”: “[I]t was an investigative scoop, pried with Woodward-and-Bernstein ingenuity from the clenched fists of Vanity Fair publicists, who would rather have red-hot pokers jabbed into their eyes than get half a million bucks worth of free advertising. The photos were presented as part of what apparently will be a regular segment … CBS bosses were apparently embarrassed enough that they opened the piece with footage of the network’s original anchor, Douglas Edwards, showing baby pictures of British royalty 50 years ago as a sort of justification.” And the New York Times’ Alessandra Stanley made a similar dig: “Perhaps worried that the segment would look too frivolous, Ms. Couric introduced it with a clip of a 1949 CBS newscast with Douglas Edwards showing a baby picture of Prince Charles, as if there were a grand tradition of baby pictures at the Tiffany network.”
Predictably, in nearly every next-day Couric review, the anchorwoman’s clothing choices were mentioned — often sheepishly, in parentheses, with the help of the phrase “for the record” (used in three different reviews, as if to say I realize this wardrobe critique is frivolous but “the record” demands that I include it nevertheless). One example, from the Sun-Sentinel: “For the record, Couric wore a white jacket (a day after Labor Day!) over a simple black top.” The Washington Post’s Shales dwelled longer than most on the matter of Couric’s attire, observing in his sixth paragraph that Couric “oddly wore a white blazer over a black top and skirt, the blazer buttoned in such a way as to make her look chubby, bursting at the button, which we know she isn’t. It was a poor choice …” And then there was the New York Sun, which led with the audacity of Couric’s blazer: “Wearing white after Labor Day isn’t a fashion crime anymore. But if Katie Couric really wanted us to focus on her reporting rather than her wardrobe, she shouldn’t have flouted one of the oldest rules in the book.” The reviewer went on to bristle that Couric’s “white jacket … wasn’t even winter white.”