Possibly even more earsplitting than the chatter about Katie Couric's plans to leave her post at NBC's "Today" show for the "CBS Evening News" is the talk about whether she can cut it. Again and again commentators have mouthed off on whether they think she has the "gravitas" to handle the position. An article in the New York Observer asks an interesting question: What is gravitas? It's not Couric's oft-cited attributes (or weaknesses, depending on whom you ask): her legs and perky giggle. (Never mind her interviewing skills or ability to hold her own on-air for three-hour stretches.)
How exactly has the term gained traction as the defining characteristic of a worthy evening news anchor? It seems that "dignity" or "trustworthiness" would be sufficient. If you ask Connie Chung, gravitas requires something more specific: balls. Well, the Observer says that "delicacy prevented" Chung from actually defining it as such, but the suggestion was made nonetheless (leave it to Broadsheet to throw delicacy to the wayside). She did say that "it is essentially a chauvinistic word."
Chung, who co-anchored the "Evening News" for two years, may know a thing or two about what it takes to make it in this boys club. She said that David Carr's recent New York Times column, in which he concluded that "the fact that networks seem willing to concede that the best man for the job is clearly a woman means that it just isn't the same job anymore," drove her nuts. "The news business is changing, so the importance of the evening news is diminished, so therefore it's finally acceptable to people if it's a woman who anchors," she said. "It's really a shame, because I'd really love for it to be the same-thing level of prestige -- but with a woman."
As the Observer points out, there is one example of a female anchor holding her own, but only by accident. Elizabeth Vargas has taken charge of ABC's "World News Tonight" after coanchor Bob Woodruff was seriously wounded while reporting in Iraq. But don't forget the upset over her upcoming maternity leave -- you can almost hear the detractors scream "See! So unfit and unreliable!"
Chung's words -- and the whole "gravitas" debate -- echo back to Maureen Dowd's Dec. 10 column, which recounted a conversation she'd had with a male TV exec who said that Vargas, then under consideration for the position, might not have the "gravitas to hold that anchor chair." One of Dowd's conclusions seems incredibly relevant now: "By the time women get to take over something -- like Hollywood or Bush administration diplomacy -- the thing is already devalued beyond recognition."