Press Gives Katie Couric the Britney Spears Treatment

To all the hype over Katie Couric's possible move to the CBS anchor desk, we ask: Is it really that important?

Readers across the country woke up this morning to prominently placed stories in the Washington Post, New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, Philadelphia Inquirer and New York Daily News, among others, announcing the “breaking” news — yet again — that Katie Couric is likely to leave NBC’s Today in order to take the news anchor job at CBS.

But that’s not really news. For the past several weeks, every move, every offer, every sneeze by any of the parties involved has been leaked (usually anonymously) to the press, which has chronicled the story with the sort of gusto generally reserved only for missing white women and potentially pregnant celebrities.

It’s difficult to pick out one specific story from the avalanche of coverage of the past few weeks, as, frankly, reading the same thing over and over has given us a bad case of Couric fatigue. (For the cookie-cutter latest about the possible move, just randomly pick a link from Romenesko’s list on the issue today — they’re basically identical, anyway.) Each piece rounds up the same tired facts: Couric joined the Today show in 1991, she’s under contract to NBC though the end of May, her current deal bars her from formal talks with another network until the beginning of that month but NBC execs have decided to allow her representatives to discuss offers from possible suitors, anyway. There’s no deal yet, but CBS seems to be leading the sweepstakes; Couric would replace Bob Schieffer, who replaced Dan Rather in March 2005 as anchor of the network’s evening newscast. Toss in the speculation that Meredith Vieira, co-host of ABC’s The View, has reportedly been offered Couric’s slot on Today should she resign, and you have the ingredients that make up this particular media spectacle.

Sure, there’s some sort of story here; there are, after all, about 25 million people watching one of the network news broadcasts every night. But how much navel-gazing is enough? Being a media monitor, we understand the fun — and occasional value — there is in exercises like this, but the constant drumbeat of Couric non-news, rumor and speculation has officially entered the realm of the absurd. The story hasn’t moved forward much in weeks, yet critics and media writers continue to fill airtime and column inches war-gaming the possible scenarios.

Let’s face it: The news is the news, whether it’s Brian Williams, Bob Schieffer or Katie Couric reading from the teleprompter to those lucky souls who somehow manage to make it home from work early enough to catch the 6:30 p.m. news. Let’s not forget that anchors aren’t generally the grunts out in the field breaking stories and banging on doors trying to get the big scoop — that’s what the reporters on their staffs are for. The job of the anchor is to figure out which story should get air time, and which shouldn’t. You could put just about any charismatic talking head with some modicum of news sense in the chair and let them follow the teleprompter’s instructions, and people would tune in.

We’re sure Couric would do a fine job as CBS’ news anchor, and would mix the hard news with those feel-good stories from the heartland, pieces about “special” kids, hype about the latest health scare and the rest of the lot that pays the electric bills for the network news divisions. CBS would probably even get a ratings bump out of the deal.

But we can’t shake the feeling that all of this really matters only to the media writers who love to speculate about these things and the editors who employ them.

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