Rise of the NewsMommies

So why didn’t CBS choose a woman like Nina Totenberg, Lesley Stahl, Christiane Amanpour as its evening news anchor? They’re too threatening.
But not Katie Couric. Columnist Valerie Takahama hypothesizes that Couric was picked not because she’s an outstanding journalist, but precisely because she isn’t. Or at least she isn’t perceived that way. Apparently we Americans want to hear our news from a perky NewsMommy, not Tom Brokaw with lipstick and a wig.

Pamela Ezell, an assistant professor of English at Chapman University and a television producer, points to Couric’s personal tragedy and the sense that she rose to the challenges of coping and recovery as central to her popularity.
“She’s had the ability to weather that storm publicly. That gives us the sense, oh, we can trust her,” Ezell says. “She seems very warm, and there’s also this assurance that her kids came first.”

Nevermind that she’s interviewed world leaders like Kofi Annan, Tony Blair and Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah.

…most viewers also see Couric as Katie, the mother of two young girls, the widow of a man who died at a premature age from colon cancer, [...] and a tabloid favorite who’s been spotted out and about with a TV producer, a pop jazz trumpeter and others.

But what if that’s a good thing? Should we be happy that Couric doesn’t have to downplay her role as a mother in order to get ahead in her career?

“With Barbara Walters, you didn’t even know if she had children. … When these guys [Brokaw, Jennings, et al.] were coming up, you didn’t talk about your families,” [Kate O'Brian, director of ABC News in Seattle] said. (Walters [...] has one daughter.)

It’s problematic, though, when a woman’s role as wife/mother becomes such a huge part of her professional life and public persona that she commands less respect as a journalist. It’s not just Couric who’s been criticized for “lacking gravitas.” Her fellow NewsMommies Meredith Vieira and Elizabeth Vargas have taken similar hits.
Outgoing CBS anchor Bob Schieffer said it all when he described Couric as “a wonderful person and wonderful mother who will be nurturing of our correspondents.”
Not so much a “wonderful journalist who will challenge and improve our correspondents.”

Join the Conversation