Seventeen years ago this week, the media world was in a state of great anticipation as Katie Couric debuted on CBS as the first female anchor of one of the “Big Three” weekday evening news broadcasts.
“With a rebuilt newsroom behind her and new theme music from an Academy Award-winning composer, Katie Couric is set to make the most talked-about debut of the fall television season Tuesday on the CBS Evening News,” previewed the AP’s David Bauder on September 4, 2006, the day before Couric helmed her first official newscast.
CBS had reason to be hopeful: Couric had been a top-rated co-host on NBC’s Today, and the selection could reinvigorate a newscast mired in third place and tainted by the scandals of the Dan Rather era.
But after a brief surge in viewership (boosted by a reported $10 million publicity campaign), Couric’s newscast ultimately proved even less popular than her predecessor’s. By 2010, ratings for the CBS Evening News had tumbled to less than five million per night, and the network was ready to pull the plug on its $15 million/year celebrity anchor.
In TV ads promoting Couric’s arrival, outgoing interim anchor Bob Schieffer promised: “She’s tough, she’s fair, she’s a straight-shooter….Just watch.” But instead of attracting viewers hungry for a change from Rather’s liberal partisanship, Couric offered only more of the same.
The warning signs were obvious. For years on NBC, Couric had promoted liberals and criticized conservatives. The week before Couric’s CBS debut, Bloomberg quoted longtime CBS congressional correspondent Phil Jones: “[Katie Couric is] a liberal Democrat so in love with Hillary Clinton that it could pose a problem if Clinton runs for President.”
Sure enough, in her CBS years, Couric sounded indistinguishable from liberal politicians when it came to climate change, government health care, President Barack Obama’s massive spending plans, and even a government takeover of U.S. banks. She flattered Obama (“You’re so confident, Mr. President, and so focused…”) and condemned the rest of the media for being too tough on Hillary Clinton (“Senator Clinton received some of the most unfair, hostile coverage I’ve ever seen”). Couric blamed her own failures at CBS on — what else? — sexism: “Some said I lacked ‘gravitas,’ which I’ve since decided is Latin for ‘testicles.’”
From the MRC’s archives, here are a dozen quotes showing how Couric used her perch as anchor of the CBS Evening News to boost her favorite liberal politicians and causes:
■ “It seems like we’re reaching critical mass when it comes to this issue [climate change]. And all the experts agree. Well, almost every expert. (There are a handful of scientists — many of them on the payroll of big oil companies — who wonder if global warming is a reality.) But my fervent hope is that Hollywood’s embrace of Al Gore doesn’t give people an excuse to condemn and mock the effort — and oppose taking steps that we as a society need to take to deal with the issue of climate change.”
— Couric writing about the Oscar given to Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, on her CBSNews.com blog, “Couric & Co.,” February 26, 2007.
■ “More than 46 million Americans have no health insurance. So when it comes to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and good health, all men are not created equal.”
— Couric introducing a story on the March 12, 2007 CBS Evening News.
■ “Agree with him or not, he [Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards] deserves credit for pushing tough issues off the back burner. He encouraged his fellow Democrats to speak out for the disenfranchised and under-served. He was the first to raise issues like poverty, universal health care and climate change, proposing big ideas — sometimes controversial ideas — to meet big challenges. He bucked the conventional wisdom and took political risks, speaking honestly about why he wanted to raise taxes, for example. That took courage.”
— Couric in her daily “Katie Couric’s Notebook” video posted to CBSNews.com on January 30, 2008 a few hours after Edwards dropped out of the race.
■ “He [Pope Benedict XVI] is very conservative. And I know a recent poll says 62 percent of Catholics believe the church isn’t reflective of their views. Does that mean entertaining issues like women as priests or use of birth control will be really off the table as long as he’s Pope?”
— Couric to Father Thomas Williams on the April 15, 2008 Evening News.
■ “However you feel about her politics, I feel that Senator Clinton received some of the most unfair, hostile coverage I’ve ever seen.”
— Couric at a June 10, 2008 luncheon in Washington D.C., as reported by Patrick Gavin at mediabistro.com.
■ “Are you out of touch with the American people?…Do you think the Republicans are digging themselves in a hole by not being more supportive of the President’s proposals?”
— Couric on the February 24, 2009 Evening News, asking Republican House Leader John Boehner about Obama’s $1 trillion stimulus bill.
■ “In Britain, a government takeover of a bank last year helped to temporarily calm fears in the financial markets there. Nationalization may have a psychological impact as well, and Uncle Sam wrapping his arms around failing banks in this country might provide a big dose of confidence for the American consumer.”
— Couric on the February 19, 2009 CBS Evening News, talking about the possibility of a government takeover of American banks.
■ “Pundits usually label judges as either liberal or conservative, but that won’t be easy with Judge [Sonia] Sotomayor…”
— Couric talking about Obama’s pick for the Supreme Court, CBS Evening News, May 27, 2009.
■ “You’re so confident, Mr. President, and so focused. Is your confidence ever shaken? Do you ever wake up and say, ‘Damn, this is hard. Damn, I’m not going to get the things done I want to get done, and it’s just too politicized to really get accomplished the big things I want to accomplish’?”
— Couric in an exchange with Obama shown on The Early Show, July 22, 2009.
■ “For nearly half a century in the Senate, Ted Kennedy spoke for people who had no voice — the poor and the disabled, children and the elderly.”
— Couric on the August 26, 2009 CBS Evening News.
■ “The bigotry expressed against Muslims in this country has been one of the most disturbing stories to surface this year….Maybe we need a Muslim version of The Cosby Show….I know that sounds crazy. But The Cosby Show did so much to change attitudes about African Americans in this country, and I think sometimes people are afraid of things they don’t understand.”
— Couric on her CBSNews.com @KatieCouric Web show, December 22, 2010.
■ “One of the problems with being a trailblazer is, sometimes you get burned. In those first few months at CBS, TV critics wrote about my clothes, my hair, my make-up, even the way I held my hands. Some said I lacked ‘gravitas,’ which I’ve since decided is Latin for ‘testicles.’…My story may have played out in the public eye, but it’s by no means unique. Every one of you will at some point be confronted by naysayers and learn that life isn’t always fair. You’ll feel cheated, you’ll be mistreated. You’ll wonder, ‘When will I be loved?’”
— Couric delivering the commencement address at the University of Virginia, May 20, 2011, the day after her final CBS Evening News broadcast.
For more examples from our flashback series, which we call the NewsBusters Time Machine, go here.