Network Evening News Ends with a Whimper

posted at 7:37 pm on April 28, 2011 by Ed Driscoll

At Commentary on Tuesday, Peter Wehner bid Katie Couric adieu:

It’s official: Katie Couric is stepping down as anchor of the CBS Evening News.

A generation ago, this would have been a huge event; today, it’s essentially a yawn. I follow politics far more closely than most Americans – and I don’t think I’ve ever watched Ms. Couric anchor the CBS Evening News. Not even once. And aside from Couric’s interview with Sarah Palin in 2008, I can’t think of a segment that was on the program that ever created a ripple, or even generated a comment. It isn’t that her show was bad (I have no way of knowing); it’s that it was irrelevant.

One other thing: Ms. Couric made her announcement official in an exclusive interview with… People magazine.

Which highlights how news and celebrity worship has blurred into something beyond traditional satire. Speaking of which, since many viewers consider faux-journalist Jon Stewart to be “America’s Most Trusted Newsman,” as a 2009 HuffPo headline blared, why shouldn’t traditional TV journalists start working the other side of the street? While Walter Cronkite of CBS once appeared on his network’s Mary Tyler Moore show as a friend of fictional TV producer Lou Grant, that was an aberration, not a career goal. But these days, this Newsbusters headline isn’t all that surprising: “New York Mag Gushes: ‘Isn’t It Time We Took the Comedy of Brian Williams Seriously?’”

According to New York magazine, Nightly News anchor Brian Williams is a “versatile” humorist who now has a “second career” making people laugh. In a gushing, 3600 word piece, writer John Swansburg went so far as to fawn, “He’s a confident, kempt success in a profession dominated by neurotics and Apatovian man-children. Isn’t it time we took the comedy of Brian Williams seriously?”

For proof of the anchor’s hilarity, Swansburg quoted NBC employees Tina Fey, Seth Meyers and Jimmy Fallon to attest to NBC employee Williams’ comic talents. The New York journalist lamented that “Williams has yet to really receive his due as a comedian.”

Oh you mean besides his comedic stylings each night at 6:30 PM.

How badly have the once-mighty fallen in the days of the Internet and hundreds of cable and satellite channels? As Jazz Show wrote here at Hot Air, guess whom the Guardian of England identifies as the “Top US News Anchor:”

In what should have been a throw-away puff piece in the Guardian, Hadley Freeman inadvertently stirs up a pair of minor tempests for teapots. (And for once it’s a story from across the pond that has nothing to do with the royal wedding.) The first issue pops up in the article tag line as well as the lede graph.

Rachel Maddow: ‘I’m definitely not an autocutie’

The top US news anchor on why she prefers jokes to anger and why she is proud to be gay

It’s 10.05pm on a rainy Tuesday night in the MSNBC studio in the now famous New York address, 30 Rock, and Rachel Maddow – one of the highest profile news anchors in America and certainly one of the most popular with liberal viewers – has just finished another edition of her nightly eponymous prime-time show.

Really? That comment raised more than a few eyebrows on this side of the Atlantic to be sure. Not to take anything away from Maddow or her fans, but if I recall correctly, she wasn’t even the highest rated anchor at MSNBC until Olberman left. That’s not to say that she and her network haven’t been doing fairly well in the ratings war. But as of the latest count, MSNBC came in second over the whole day to Fox, 1.002 million to 426K, a better than 2:1 margin. In her own time slot, Maddow comes on a bit stronger, placing second with 959K to Hannity’s 1.4 million. And those numbers don’t even fold in the network news offerings.

And as a reminder, even the anemically-rated Katie Couric received approximately five million nightly viewers last summer.  And that was bad enough for the Daily Beast to claim, “One person described the atmosphere inside the network as ‘sepulchral.’” (Of course, Katie could poison the atmosphere, even when riding high in the ratings at NBC.)

But then, as their geriatric-themed sponsors tacitly highlight, the Big Three networks are maintaining their evening news broadcasts as a service to those few remaining, often sclerotic viewers too terrified of the Internet to ever figure out how to log on. That’s a far cry from the MSM’s monopolistic glory days, as Hollywood screenwriter turned center-right pundit Burt Prelutsky wrote back in 2005:

You can go back to Chet Huntley, David Brinkley, John Chancellor and Walter Cronkite. We treated them all with a deference that was totally out of proportion to the work they did. Essentially, the job description requires that they read the captions to the news footage we’re watching and to introduce the on-site reporters. Do you really think that constitutes the mental equivalent of heavy lifting? For doing what your uncle Sid could do — and with a lot more pazazz — they’re paid enormous amounts of money. On top of all the dough, they are constantly the honorees at testimonial dinners, but that’s fine, so long as I don’t have to attend. But the trouble is, they’re regarded as important people by way too many of us, and that’s not good. Why? Because it makes us all look like a bunch of saps — what H.L. Mencken called the boobus americanus and what P.T. Barnum simply labeled suckers.

Because these anchors get to spend their entire careers talking about important events and important people, they naturally come to regard themselves as important. Self-delusion is a form of insanity and we should not encourage it by fawning over them.

When they finally sign off for the last time, you notice that the testimonials inevitably mention how many political conventions they covered, how many space missions, how many inaugurations, assassinations, uprisings and wars, as if they had had a hand in any of these earth-shaking events. It wasn’t their hands that were involved, it was their behinds, as they sat year after year at those desks, declaiming in those store-bought voices what we were seeing with our own eyes — all thanks to the journalistic peons who actually went places and did things and took risks so that we could sit home and watch it

Now, I’m not saying we should kill the messengers. I’m just suggesting it’s time we stopped canonizing them.

The Guardian aside, I think we’ve reached that point, particularly since a lot of potential viewers will be responding the name of Katie’s likely successor with a resounding, “Huh?” (See also: Larry King’s successor on CNN, the paternal equivalent of Rula Lenska.)

Of course, if CBS really wanted to shake things up, as Allahpundit suggested, there is one name they could hire to replace Katie

(With Ed Morrissey going on vacation for a few days, Ed and Allah asked me to join the gang sitting-in to replace him, in order to maintain the proper ratio of Blogospheric Eds. Thanks, fellas! This post originally appeared, in slightly modified form, at Ed Driscoll.com)


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Scott Pelley could be good. More of a news guy than personality. But, of course, that doesn’t mean I’m going to replace Fox or CNN with him.

amerpundit on April 28, 2011 at 7:43 PM

Is that America’s top anchor in the middle?

Lanceman on April 28, 2011 at 7:46 PM

Is that America’s top anchor in the middle?

Just ask the Guardian!

Ed Driscoll on April 28, 2011 at 7:47 PM

Because these anchors get to spend their entire careers talking about important events and important people, they naturally come to regard themselves as important.

Nailed it. When some childish want of theirs is thwarted, the first words out of their mouths is “Do you know who I am?”

GarandFan on April 28, 2011 at 7:48 PM

Good riddance (sp??)libtards!

bernzright777 on April 28, 2011 at 7:48 PM

I don’t even watch TV anymore. I am sure there is something out there in the wasteland that is worth finding, but it isn’t worth the search through the mountains of crap to discover it.

sharrukin on April 28, 2011 at 7:51 PM

Sarah Palin is familiar with executing a newscast.

SouthernGent on April 28, 2011 at 7:51 PM

Sarah Palin is familiar with executing a newscast.

SouthernGent on April 28, 2011 at 7:51 PM

Sarah Palin isn’t a nutcase liberal and that is a prerequisite for the job these days.

sharrukin on April 28, 2011 at 7:53 PM

There are plenty of words here, but suffice it today, I’ve not read the piece, any of it.

I have not watched the evening news for years, literally years, and that includes Shep Smith because I don’t like him. I don’t miss it, I don’t need it, I don’t care for it. I get my news from the links HA and other blogs provide, online news sources, and news from across the nation and around the world from links FB friends provide.

The evening news is dying, but that’s one animal that should go extinct.

Good night, and good riddance.

madmonkphotog on April 28, 2011 at 7:54 PM

Ha! I was glad to see Katie Couric saddle up and ride that CBS News dinosaur right off the cliff. Well, done, Chipmunk!

cynccook on April 28, 2011 at 7:57 PM

I can’t say I’ve ever watched network news.

Nelsen on April 28, 2011 at 7:59 PM

Buh bye Katie. Don’t hate seeing you go.

Welcome aboard Ed, and thanks to you and all that will keep the site moving along. I don’t think I’d get along well with out my fix here.

capejasmine on April 28, 2011 at 7:59 PM

I’ve always said that if you took away their show and all the money that goes with it those pampered anchors couldn’t get a job waiting tables. They are unemployable.
You want proof…?
Where is Rick Sanchez?
Where is David Shuster or Susan Roesgen…?
Nobody is standing in line to pay them enormous salaries.
Are they even working or just coasting on their savings…?
Even Olbermann is struggling.
He spends more time on Twitter than he does working.

NeoKong on April 28, 2011 at 8:04 PM

I remember watching Walter and watching 60 Minutes: decades ago. I challenge my Lib friends by telling them to watch Katie and then watch Brett, the same night. Brett will report the same thing that Katie did and a whole lot more. Everyone of my Lib friends, reluctantly, agreed after doing this.

Dingbat63 on April 28, 2011 at 8:04 PM

Katie who?

chewmeister on April 28, 2011 at 8:06 PM

I watched Katie a couple of times. When they featured Rush. It was an exercise in keeping the bile down the slant was so obvious.

John the Libertarian on April 28, 2011 at 8:06 PM

There are a certain amount of people who believe,,ah,, that,,ah, reading a teleprompter is a great feat, therefore, they are on a higher plane than the ones who merely have to listen.

tinkerthinker on April 28, 2011 at 8:11 PM

The evening network news did not end. Katie Couric was motivated out the door. Do not conflate the two — they are entirely different.

unclesmrgol on April 28, 2011 at 8:12 PM

Is that America’s top anchor in the middle?

Harry Potter?

StubbleSpark on April 28, 2011 at 8:12 PM

What was once a dinner time routine to turn on the news, sit on the couch with my Swanson’s TV dinner, and review all the news that was fit to be reviewed.

Content, it all boils down to content. In Katie Couric’s case, it was her colonoscopy that kept her head where the sun don’t shine.

Only on Sunday evening’s I’ll watch the alphabet news, at random only because Animation Domination come on right after AFV.

However, isn’t it interesting that many of the old timey newsy have migrated to FOX?

Kini on April 28, 2011 at 8:13 PM

It isn’t that her show was bad (I have no way of knowing); it’s that it she was is irrelevant.

RalphyBoy on April 28, 2011 at 8:14 PM

I didn’t read the whole commentary, but have they announced who Obama has selected to replace her?

BruthaMan on April 28, 2011 at 8:14 PM

Katie is still perky.

Mr. Grump on April 28, 2011 at 8:19 PM

As Jazz Show wrote here at Hot Air…

Jazz Show?

eyesky on April 28, 2011 at 8:20 PM

10 seconds to say it all:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ReYfu5E-hOE

Bruno Strozek on April 28, 2011 at 8:22 PM

Katie is still perky. Mr. Grump on April 28, 2011 at 8:19 PM

I’m guessing you are, like me, a geezer? So, yep, I would. What’s that Toby Keith song about not being as good as I once was?

Dingbat63 on April 28, 2011 at 8:28 PM

Katie lost the conservative audience early on when she could not hide her disdain for the unwashed masses in flyover country. And that was after CBS news lost all credibility with the forged Bush service record documents. A pox on their houses.

karenhasfreedom on April 28, 2011 at 8:38 PM

Is that America’s top anchor in the middle?

Harry Potter?

StubbleSpark on April 28, 2011 at 8:12 PM

With that neck, I thought it was a giraffe with glasses.

pseudoforce on April 28, 2011 at 9:14 PM

It’s Jazz Shaw, Ed.

Makeup!

Mr_Magoo on April 28, 2011 at 9:20 PM

To look at this a different way, how many negative stories have we seen on any of the alphabet networks, about President Obama? Anyone?? Anyone? Let’s be charitable, they’ve been few and far between. How many negative stories have you seen about Obamacare, on the network news? Anyone??? OK, what’s the point? Both of them are underwater in the polls. No one trusts the network news any more since what they did to George Bush and what they didn’t do to Barack Obama.

The fact is the Democrats have got to be going nuts. They’ve had everything go their way, they’ve had the press in the hip pocket for years yet they just got their butts kicked last election. Sorry, no one believes the Democrats have the countries best interest at heart, only the unions, and no one believes the news outlets, either print or television, are going to report the facts of the stories of the day. ONce you’ve hit that point, it’s extremely difficult to get trust back.

The biggest problem for both of them, they’ve earned everything they’re getting. Just think about Charles Gibson looking down his nose at Sarah Palin and then playing cheerleader for Barack Obama, sort of says it all. If one newscaster, just one, had ever said to Barack Obama, “Hey, you’ve had a couple of years in the Illinois Senate and a couple of years in the U.S. Senate and you were a community organizer, what on earth makes you think you’re qualified to be President of the United States?” they’d probably have a following today.

bflat879 on April 28, 2011 at 9:21 PM

Dingbat63 on April 28, 2011 at 8:28 PM

You’re pretty much correct. As I get older, my standards drop. It’s not to say I like her, or would watch her but I probably would , in the words of Chico Marx, “whisper in her mouth.”

Mr. Grump on April 28, 2011 at 9:24 PM

Amazing how clueless these major news networks are. They don’t even seem to care if they survive-give no thought to dropping Liberals from their anchor desks and running their operations. It took sixty years or so, but it sounds like Americans have actually begun to see through their ideological bias.

Dr. ZhivBlago on April 28, 2011 at 9:29 PM

A generation ago, this would have been a huge event; today, it’s essentially a yawn. I follow politics far more closely than most Americans – and I don’t think I’ve ever watched Ms. Couric anchor the CBS Evening News. Not even once.

Until I read that, I hadn’t realized I never watched her a single time either. I see her picture often on blogs or magazine covers, or hear her voice on a talk radio clip, but that’s it. Never watched her. I don’t watch any evening news at all, for that matter, and I know more about what’s in the news than people who do.
There was a time when I read Newsweek, Time, US News weekly. Often I would look through other magazines like Der Spiegel or a few others. Read local paper and USA Today. Flipped the channel through CBS, ABC and NBC each night. Watched 60 minutes, Nightline and Jim Lehrer News hour as much as possible. Now, none of them. None for at least 7-8 years or more. All my news is talk radio and blogs and I am more informed than I ever was and spending less time doing it.

JellyToast on April 28, 2011 at 9:29 PM

Palin, CBS anchor?

Palin wins?

faraway on April 28, 2011 at 9:34 PM

What did folks expect — she’d leave like Jake Harper (of 2.5 men) announcing she’d cut one?

drfredc on April 28, 2011 at 9:42 PM

I’m thankful that Couric and bang never made it into the same sentence.

viking01 on April 28, 2011 at 10:21 PM

I say they hire Shepard Smith to replace Katie.

The Massive Hole left at Fox by his departure could be filled by one of the heels of Megan Kelly’s stylish pumps.

Lily on April 28, 2011 at 11:24 PM

‘Isn’t It Time We Took the Comedy of Brian Williams Seriously?’”

I remember laughing at Brian Williams when he bowed to Obama.

RJL on April 29, 2011 at 1:54 AM

Since Katie’s job was to sit there, looking good, and reading other peoples’ words on the telepromptor, well, maybe President Obama, so tired of his job already, could just move over to CBS.

Really Right on April 29, 2011 at 2:10 AM

Dear MsPerkyness – DON’T let the door hitcha where the good Lord splitcha!!!

Katfish on April 29, 2011 at 9:29 AM

So, being a partisan hack and calling yourself a journalist DOESN’T mean success? I’ll be darned……

Sponge on April 29, 2011 at 10:51 AM

the Big Three networks are maintaining their evening news broadcasts as a service to those few remaining, often sclerotic viewers too terrified of the Internet to ever figure out how to log on.

Log on to what? I can read news sites all day and never log into anything. I have to log in at Hot Air to comment. It’s no wonder those old people don’t go on the Internet if the people producing content on it can’t get simple things right.

The Monster on April 29, 2011 at 12:09 PM