Happy Anniversary, Katie!

You're a "lightweight" -- albeit one with "exquisitely tinted hair"

Time flies when you’re having fun! Today marks the one-year anniversary of Katie Couric’s ballyhooed debut as the anchor of The CBS Evening News.

It has, per the Los Angeles Times, been “a difficult year in which [Couric’s] every action and wardrobe choice drew snippy commentary.”

Make that continues to draw.

Before Couric even filed her first report from Iraq this week, the New York Daily News’ David Hinckley had announced that her reporting was likely to be worthless and offered this pot-shot-cum-prediction: “Don’t be surprised if [Couric’s reporting trip in Iraq] tells us more about how Katie Couric looks in fatigues than what we can salvage from the quicksand of Iraq.” (No camo yet! Just some decent reporting, according to Hinckley’s Daily News colleague Richard Huff, who actually waited to watch a couple of Couric’s reports before rendering his verdict today.)

To the Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz, Couric “dismiss[ed] detractors” who say she is reporting from Iraq this week as a desperate ratings grab by saying, “there’s going to be criticism if I wear a white blouse.” (Well, we saw what happened when Couric wore a white blazer her first night on the job.)

Newsday’s Verne Gay informed readers yesterday that “impressions” have been “sown among viewers” that Couric is a “lightweight with exquisitely tinted hair.” And who has helped to sow these “impressions” (apart from the honey-maned Couric herself)? Well, there was that Philadelphia Inquirer article that “dismembered” Couric, Gay explains, followed by that piece in New York magazine in which Couric “came off as whiny and ungrateful” (followed by Gay’s own column yesterday…).

Keeping the impression-sowing going, the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s Douglas Durden, too, observed that Couric is “perceived as lightweight against her male counterparts on the other two evening newscasts” — this, in spite of having “subdued her inner pixie” when she arrived at CBS. (Really, can anyone who is described as having an “inner pixie” in need of “subduing” ever truly hope to shake off the “lightweight” label?)

Eric Deggans, for one, mourns the lost pixie, lamenting in the St. Petersburg Times that “this new gravitas-filled woman seems a shell of her perky self.” (The g-word and the p-word in a single sentence!)

Couric is “busy as a bee” in Iraq, buzzed the New York Post’s Adam Buckman today from the safety of his stateside office. “CBS’s anchor had taken a walk through one marketplace in the war-torn country the size of California where thousands have died in terror bombings and declared it to be safe, like she’d just arrived in town on the proverbial turnip truck,” writes Buckman. Here is what Couric actually “declared” about the Alawi market, which she called “the scene of that very bloody gun battle back in January”:

“[The market] seemed to be thriving, and there were a lot of people out and about, a lot of family-owned businesses and vegetable stalls. And so you do see signs of life that seem to be normal. Of course, that’s what the US military wants me to see, so you have to keep that in mind as well. But there—I think there are definitely areas where the situation is improving. But everyone agrees, Bob, that if these people, the people of Iraq, do not get basic services like electricity, like running water, it will be impossible to win their hearts and minds and have them fully support the national unity government or anything that’s going on here.”

A bit less credulous than Buckman suggested. Couric did, apparently, pass the Buckman bravado test — “to her credit” — by appearing on-camera sans protective helmet yesterday. Last week, however, Buckman seemed more focused on how “the single, widowed mother of two girls ages 12 and 16” was putting herself in harm’s way, something for which other media observers also tut-tutted her.

Couric can’t win for trying! She has no war reporting experience! But shame on her for risking her hide in Iraq, a single mother of two! In Iraq, she’ll never get the real story, bumbling about the Green Zone in her Kevlar vest and helmet! Credit to Couric for not donning her protective helmet today! It’s a good thing Couric “subdued her inner pixie” for her CBS gig. Bring back the pixie!

The New York Times’ Alessandra Stanley writes today that Couric is in Iraq “at just the right time to pre-empt the flurry of harsh assessments awaiting her first anniversary as anchor of the CBS Evening News.” So much for preemption.

But, of course, The CBS Evening News still ranks third in network news ratings. And this seems to be the cover from which commentators feel justified to launch all manner of cheap shots. While a year is not enough time to know whether viewers might warm to the still-evolving hard-news Couric, it’s clear that many media reporters won’t forgive Couric her morning-show past.

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.