Katie Couric: Anything a Media Critic Wants Her to be

More contradictory reports from the land of Couric obsessives.

In the span of an hour this morning, Romenesko posted two stories about Katie Couric (yeah, the “Couric watch” has become an evergreen) that so perfectly sum up the “anything goes” nature of media criticism that we just had to take a crack at it.

Just for effect, here are the two Romo-linked headlines:

“Couric’s beginning to “feel more in command” and at ease”

“Will Couric leave “CBS Evening News” after 2008 elections?”

So which is it? Let’s unpack. The earlier and more upbeat headline comes from Sunday’s Chicago Tribune, where Phil Rosenthal conducted a workmanlike interview with Couric and CBS honcho Sean McManus, in which he takes note of the anti-Couric sentiment floating out there in the media ether, but lets her have the last, sunny word. Rosenthal also makes it sound like Couric and her bosses at CBS are digging in their heels for the long haul, and that even though Couric’s show continues to slip in the ratings, the bigwigs at CBS are committed to sticking with Couric.

At least that’s the company line.

The later and decidedly more dour Couric story takes the exact opposite track. The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Gail Shister lets loose in her lead that “CBS executives deny it, but there’s a growing feeling within the network that Katie Couric is an expensive, unfixable mistake.”

Shister spoke to seven “correspondents, producers and executives at CBS and other networks,” who spoke on the condition of anonymity, and using the power of the anonymous quote, really lay into Couric. One “veteran correspondent” at the network tells Shister that “It’s a disaster. Everybody knows it’s not working. CBS may not cut her loose, but I guarantee you, somebody’s thinking about it. We’re all hunkered down, waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

So which is it? Is Couric “more at ease” and looking toward a brighter day, as the Tribune says, or is the CBS newsroom full of bitterness, pushing Couric toward a 2008 ouster, as the Inquirer reports? The last person you should ask, it seems, is your friendly neighborhood media critic, because at this point everyone seems to be tossing speculation at the wall, and seeing what sticks.

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Paul McLeary is senior editor of Defense Technology International magazine, and is a former CJR staffer.