Howard Kurtz did no better. Sawyer’s appointment, he wrote in The Washington Post, “leaves a sizable void at ‘Good Morning America,’ where Sawyer’s star power will be hard to replace,” blah blah. “Although nightly news ratings have been declining for two decades and the morning shows are more profitable,” Kurtz went on, “network anchors still command considerable prestige and lead the coverage of disasters, political conventions and other breaking-news events,” blah blah.
Not once did Kurtz break from such entertainment-speak to consider how shallow the network news has become, and why. The networks are in a death spiral, yet they keep airing the same tired product. Could they do things differently? Has the anchor system perpetuated the problem? What changes might succeed in luring new viewers? Pondering such questions would surely be of more use to Post readers than Kurtz’s Variety-like musings.
Interestingly, in July, after the death of Walter Cronkite, Kurtz, in one of his regular online Q & A sessions with readers, fielded the following: “Cronkite did not start out as a celebrity, he became one and was likely the last anchor to do so after the Barbara Walters/Dan Rather era started. Do the high salaries of top TV anchors damage the connection with the public that Cronkite seemed to have?”
Kurtz: “I don’t fully know. Katie Couric may make $15 million a year, but she grew up in a middle-class family in Arlington. Brian Williams was once a volunteer fireman. Dan Rather graduated from Sam Houston State College. And it’s not just the anchors—the opinion guys, O’Reilly, Rush, Olbermann, Matthews and the like, make millions each year. Does that mean their values change, that they’re automatically out of touch? In some cases, perhaps, but I don’t think that’s universally true.”
Kurtz could muster no outrage over the salaries these anchors are pulling down, nor even wonder aloud about the state of the rusty shows these journalists are presiding over. At a time when the obscene executive pay levels at places like Goldman Sachs and AIG are stoking anger, shouldn’t the same be true for ABC, CBS, and NBC?