Thursday, April 06, 2006

Peggy Noonon:

The rise of Katie Couric to the "Evening News," however, raises an interesting question, and may be suggestive of the media environment of the future. I am not referring to the fact that Katie's a woman and will be the first to "fly solo," as everyone is saying. It's not 1967, and she's not replacing Walter Cronkite, who counted. We're all happily used to women bringing us the news.

It's this. The evening news shows have traditionally had an air of greater formality than the morning news, where the parameters for comment and personal views were understood to be broader. They have two hours to fill, not 23 minutes, of course personal views emerge. Ms. Couric's on-air comments the past decade have led many people to understand that her political and cultural beliefs are pronounced, rigid, and part of her public presentation of herself. And that this is true in a way that does not apply to the beliefs, whatever they are, of Bob Schieffer, Brian Williams and Elizabeth Vargas. (Yes, Dan Rather also consistently signaled and declared his views, but in the end that contributed to his ouster.)

Is the appointment of Katie an acknowledgement by CBS that it doesn't feel it has to care anymore about political preferences, that the existence of Fox News Channel has in effect freed up the network broadcasts to be what you and I might call more politically tendentious and they might call edgy? In a fractured media environment where everyone can have a voice, why wouldn't the broadcast networks take the new freedom as new license? After all, if America is one big niche market, liberals make up a big niche.

I'm wondering how the network news divisions are viewing the lay of the land. The answer will tell us something about the future American media environment.

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