Brian Williams and Katie Couric’s Apparently Permanent Reputations

How many major errors of judgment and how many acts of improvement must occur before reputations of networks news anchors change?

Brian Williams, NBC News anchor, and Katie Couric, CBS News anchor, should be wondering, but my guess is that only the latter is incredulous.

Williams and Couric’s ratings continue to be high and low respectively, despite Williams’ sub-par work, while Couric makes efforts to correct her shortcomings – ideological and others — to no avail.

You hardly ever hear any criticism of Williams, due, this observer speculates, to his good looks and smooth, easy-going and inoffensive style, yet this is the anchor who, along with the equally irresponsible president of NBC News, Steve Capus, facilitated the airing of the bragging, non-newsworthy, self-promotion tape of the killer the day following the Virginia Tech terrorism.

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Yesterday, NBC aired Williams’ interview of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, yielding no news, no answers to the critical questions of whether Iran will stop their processing of uranium – no answers because Brian Williams, who must have learned his interviewing technique from Barbara Walters, was unable or unwilling to ask follow-up questions. Ahmadinejad, true to his history, filibustered and filibustered and filibustered. He said it’s good for the United States to treat Iran with respect, and Iran doesn’t need – nor does any country – nuclear weapons. Is there anyone who has not heard this from the Iranian president?

Katie Couric, historically no ideological friend of this writer, has made efforts to improve her work by tightening her news show and, unlike her colleagues, asking some tough questions of the anointed one, news media’s consensual President-to-be, Barack Obama.

Williams’ interview of Barack Obama was, unsurprisingly, substance-free and follow-up free. One more terrible interview this year and he’ll retire the 2008 Insipid Interviewer Cup (IIC).

The result of the recent professional actions of these two news principals: no change in reputation; no change in popularity.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Richard E. Vatz, Ph.D.
Vatz is professor of political communication at Towson University

Addendum: In the excellent Washington Post article on the parents of the Virginia Tech gunman {“A Year After Massacre, Family Lives in Darkness,” April 16, 2008] Sandhya Somashekhar and Sari Horwitz detailed the poignant shame experienced by the murderer’s ingenuous and decent parents and relatives.
In one section of the piece reference is made to the effect on them of NBC’s airing of the “hate-filled video that Cho had mailed to the network” (and to that network alone).
In interesting contrast there is no shame or even any remorse indicated by the president of NBC News, Steve Capus, or NBC’s Evening News anchor, Brian Williams, since the coverage of the killings. Their selfish, journalistically irresponsible and indefensible decision to air the killer’s own self-serving, trite self-justification brought tremendous additional pain to the parents of the victims and others. As Peter Read, father of victim Mary Read, had said, “For the love of God and our children, stop broadcasting those images and those words.”

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