Media Watch: Katie Couric's Pretend Blog
America's sweetheart ruins it for everyone
For the record, KVUE anchor maiden Christine Haas actually wrote, all by herself, her recent blog entry on the station's Web site, detailing her 16-month-old son's prowess at peekaboo. In fact, for any disillusioned viewers wondering, she really does have a son; she's not making it up. Her postings about li'l Petey may not solidify her reputation as a crusading journalist, but at least she's not "pulling a Katie."
The reference is to serious CBS news icon Katie Couric, who was ensnared recently in yet another embarrassing brouhaha. One of her producers was fired for plagiarizing a Wall Street Journal story on libraries, which Couric used in a video blog. Although coverage focused on the act of plagiarism, the real revelation was that Couric, who makes something like $15 million a year, doesn't even write her own blog. Even worse, the offending "video notebook" item was framed in the style of a personal remembrance, beginning with, "I still remember when I first got my library card." In other words, not only was Couric okeydokey with someone else writing her personal journal, she was equally okeydokey with the writer making up her childhood memories.
This is dangerous territory for TV news. While it's not exactly breaking news that anchors don't write their own material, it's assumed they are at least actively involved in what comes out of their mouths. Their hair, lips, breasts, smiles, noses, wardrobe, skin tone, personalities, and enunciation may be fake, but it's taken for granted that newsreaders are at least real people who are not actively making up stuff about themselves. L'Affaire Katie may make loyal viewers wonder if the role of news anchor is inching a tad closer to spokesmodel, the type of free thinking that should scare TV news executives.
The pooh-bahs of TV are still convinced that there's an audience out there that believes anchors are serious news hounds, working over informants in dark alleys to bring you "coverage you can count on." They spend big money to pose the anchors and promote them as trustworthy journalists all to appeal to the sensibilities of their target demographic, i.e., the people who watch KTBC because they think anchor dude Mike Warren is "hunky."
But it all falls apart if you pull back the curtain and reveal a starving, underpaid, caffeine-riddled producer pulling the anchor's strings. Thanks to Katie's damn blog, anguished viewers might now reasonably wonder if any of it is real. After all, blogging is pretty simple. If Katie can't manage it, how are all the stressed, rabid news wolverines of the local anchor desks supposed to cope with it? Maybe KVUE's Haas, one of the few local anchors to have a blog, is just a station creation, her maternity leave concocted as a media stunt. Does she even have a kid?
Haas, who insists Petey is real, said she finds the Couric tale "kind of disheartening." Management urged her to focus the blog on her son, but she claims she's written every one of her blog entries all five in the last nine months on her own. "I would feel very uncomfortable with somebody coming to me and saying we're going to write a blog for you," she said.
Haas is not the only local anchor wading into the blogosphere. What about well-coiffed KXAN anchorman Robert Hadlock, who blogs to his fans at the feverish pace of one entry a month? (Sample item: a response to a viewer who begged him to no longer wear a pin-striped suit.) Hadlock assures us that he does write his blog, without any assistance, although he admits blogging is still not a high priority in his news day. "Finding time to get in there and work on it is tough," he said. Like Haas, Hadlock expressed dismay that Couric apparently was uninterested in even proofreading her own journal. "Ultimately it's her responsibility," he said.
In every way, Couric's willingness to let a producer make up her personal history strikes to the heart of anchordom. The introduction to KEYE morning guy Fred Cantú's technology blog says, "he started building radio kits as a child." Right. Could be. Or maybe some KEYE intern with dreams of reading the news himself one day is writing Cantú's blog for him. After all, Cantú writes two blogs, each updated once a week, and what anchor could keep up that pace without serious help?
Cantú contends he actually likes writing his blogs. "Just being able to say something on my mind that may not be appropriate on the air, that may give people insight into what I'm thinking," he said. "I think it's important to show another side of you."
Most local anchors have shied away from blogs, apparently wary of expressing opinions or showing personality, traits that are not encouraged by consultants. Or maybe the stations couldn't find anybody to write it for them. Either way, thanks to Couric, now crazed fans of local TV news are even less likely to read KVUE's Tyler Sieswerda's blogging on Iraqi religious strife or KTBC anchor Loriana Hernandez recounting her own first trip to the library. Katie, once America's sweetheart, has ruined it for everybody.
Kevin Brass can be reached at email@example.com.