OK, I realize that Katie Couric is a superstar, kind of the Anglo Oprah, the touchstone Alpha Female for a generation of people who are seeking some way to find a television news mix that hits the heart buttons out there in the "we're tired of politics and information" world of middle America. I know that all of this makes her controversial with some traditional newspeople and, for others, makes her a potential savior who can serve as the smiling face on the user-friendly product that saves as many jobs as possible in one of the big-media establishment newsrooms. There are people who are saying, "We are not sure that we want her, but we are worried that the other side might have landed her. So maybe we need her." There are, for example, people on the journalistic left who worry about her even if they agree with her take on most issues.
Of course, I also know that media-bias armies on the conservative side have their TiVos ready to rock and roll, waiting for her first attempts to cover the hot religious, moral and cultural issues that she turned into pulpit opportunities for her side, during her years at NBC.
But, let me get to the point. I have read much of the carefully orchestrated coverage (how many publicists can work on an event like this one?) of Couric's final prep days before hitting the air, cable and the Web. I was very confused by the mixed signals contained in a key section of Howard Kurtz's recent profile of Couric in The Washington Post, the one called "Up Close And Too Personal."
Click here to read the article and then tell me: What in the world is Couric talking about? I am especially concerned about the following section, which opens with a reference to the proposed "Free Speech" feature in which non-CBS commentators -- outsiders, experts, celebrities -- will be given 90 seconds of time to air their views.
"People are sick of the lack of civil discourse," Couric says, with guests "screaming and interrupting each other and trying to stay on message and berating the other person. They want us to get away from sound bites from inside the Beltway and roll up our sleeves and hear from real people."
OK, I'm with you so far. Reach out to those flyover people who think that their lives and issues matter.
On immigration, Couric says, CBS might interview a restaurant owner about illegal immigrants or a recent emigre from Guatemala. "Sometimes in recent years there's been such an effort to bend over backwards to placate both sides of the political aisle, and that on-the-one-hand-this, on-the-other-hand-that approach has left people a little bit cold," she says. "Sometimes they want more analysis and fact-finding and critical thinking."
On the other hand ... one planned segment will also feature author Nora Ephron expounding on plastic surgery, a subject of her new book. "They're not all going to be super-heavy," Couric says.
So people do not want a basic, balanced approach to news coverage. They hate the screaming, opinionated style of modern niche-market cable talk television, but they still want opinion and analysis, only they want it from people who do critical thinking, which means smart people, which means what? They want their opinionated news from someone who smiles a lot and doesn't even bother to let people on the other side of hot, divisive issues get in their best sound bites? What does all of that mean?
Case in point: Let's say that it's Nov. 7 and the U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear debate on the banning of partial-birth abortion, the kind of abortion policy compromise that -- according to Pew Forum research -- even the overwhelming majority of Democrats would support, in theory. So how does Couric want to approach the two sides of this issue?
Left vs. right? Pro-life left vs. Libertarian right? Pro-life women who have had abortions and want to tell their stories vs. pro-choice women who have had abortions and what to tell their stories? Or do we only hear from the voices that, after Katie and crew have done their critical thinking, are judged worthy to get on the air? What the heck is the new voice of CBS saying, here? Trust me? Have faith?