News broke last week that Katie Couric will be leaving the CBS Evening News. In a story for the New York Post, Leslie Bennetts parallels Couric’s fate with that of Hillary Clinton — two powerful women in unprecedented roles and the wreckage to prove it. (In its trademark lack of subtlety, the Post illustrates the article with the women’s heads Photoshopped onto the movie poster for “Thelma & Louise” and the headline: “Hillary & Katie: Two women pioneers driven off a cliff.”)
Bennetts angrily describes how CBS suits turned Couric into a “nauseating female caricature,” urging her to talk about her kids in between news segments and flashing her famous gams. Bennetts is indignant that women like Nora Ephron added to the pile-on, critiquing Couric’s performance on election night by writing, “I don’t mean to be sexist about Katie Couric … But it’s impossible for me to make any sort of evaluation at all about her. Because I cannot believe how bad her makeup is.” (A quote that seems to say more about Nora Ephron than it does about Katie Couric, but point taken.)
Bennett writes of both women’s troubles, “The results provide a painful measure of how far we haven’t come as a society ostensibly committed to equality. These days we believe in equal treatment for everyone, it seems, except women.”
Couric certainly took more than her share of lumps, though it has always struck me that she was an awkward fit for the evening news position in the first place. I wonder if the failure of her show is less about the unwillingness of Americans to embrace a female anchor and more about the evening news’ genuine confusion about what a news anchor should be at this time. Every time I tuned into CBS Evening News — whether in Couric’s overeager early days or more recently, when she has appeared a cipher of herself — I couldn’t help but think Couric was a woman who seemed painfully miscast.
Regardless of the reason the show is failing, it’s being attributed to gender. In a recent interview, CBS news executive Paul Friedman said, “There are a certain number of people who are really resistant to the idea of a woman as the anchor of an evening news program. I’m very surprised by it and very unhappy with it.”
Diane Sawyer, guess you’ll be staying put for a while.
Sarah Hepola is an editor at Salon.More Sarah Hepola.