Kurtz: Couric Made Too Many Changes Too Fast

Earlier today, Howard Kurtz held his weekly chat where he covered such as his book, the reluctance of media to ask tough questions, media access to the President, his book, the ratings of network news broadcasts, and of course, his book. Some excerpts:

    Voorhees, N.J.: Howard, a terrific column today! Your book excerpt proves what I have suspected since the U.S. first invaded Iraq based on the lies of this administration: far from being liberal, the TV networks, and the media in general, are very conservative when it comes reporting on the military industrial complex. Why? because the the folks who run the media outlets are very conservative! Question: Do you feel the media will go back to doing their jobs (asking the tough questions that need to be asked), or will your column/book excerpt be in vain?

    Howard Kurtz: Thanks for the kind words about my new book “Reality Show.”

    The people who own the networks may be conservative, but they don’t run the news coverage (although they can influence it indirectly through budgets and the like). The book demonstrates that after an embarrassingly inadequate performance in the runup to the war — along with the rest of the media — the network newscasts took the lead in aggressive and skeptical coverage of the Iraq conflict in 2005 and 2006, both through the anchors and the reporting of folks like Lara Logan and Richard Engel.

    By the way, I’ll be blogging about the book at http://anchorwars.blogspot.com/

    Detroit: Howie, is President Bush significantly different from other presidents in his high availability to friendly opinion columinists such as Kristol and Brooks? To me it seems awfully cheesy and comes off as propaganda. Do the columnists get that they are being used to support a particular spin, and are they willing to go along for the “exclusivity” of access? Or do they believe that these meetings offer the public and themselves important information from the president?

    Howard Kurtz: It’s valuable for any journalist, including friendly columnists, to get face time with the president. (Not to keep bringing up my book, but I detail a series of off-the-record meetings between Bush and the network anchors and Sunday show hosts.) Other presidents have certainly done this, although Clinton called in regular old White House correspondents more often. He had his favorites, though, calling E.J. Dionne and Ben Wattenberg for long chats, which both men later reported. Bush has certainly had a number of these sessions with conservatives, including one with bloggers on the right!

    Washington: Based on recent measures of viewership for broadcast news, I am beginning to suspect that the big three anchors were champions of defense. More specifically, the battle to keep viewers was waged so successfully by the tired, old anchors that the slightest modifications have resulted in only more dramatic erosion. What’s your view of this idea, after writing 480 pages on the subject generally?

    Howard Kurtz: I don’t agree that the slightest modifications have resulted in more dramatic erosion. Two anchors — Charlie Gibson and Bob Schieffer, when he was in the CBS chair — managed to increase viewership. Clearly, the anchor who made too many changes too fast, by her own admission, was Katie Couric, and that alienated some of the core viewers of the CBS Evening News. She has now gravitated toward a more traditional broadcast but is still lagging in the ratings.