Examining the Cult of Absurdity

By SteveK 

TV critic Howard Rosenberg takes a lengthy look in the Los Angeles Times at the “absurd” cult of personality in television news, and specifically the evolution of public opinion for CBS’ Katie Couric.

While essentially defending Couric, Rosenberg takes some shots at cable news. “The flagship newscasts of NBC, ABC and CBS together still attract more than 21 million viewers on weeknights, according to Nielsen Media Research,” he writes. “That’s nearly seven times the combined prime-time audience of cable’s Barnum & Bailey gang of Fox News, CNN and MSNBC.”

He argues against the “common wisdom” that “Couric has lacked the gravitas,” to compete against the other evening news anchors. “Couric herself is not absurd. She’s every bit as good as [Brian] Williams and [Charles] Gibson at reading a TelePrompTer, and the world she describes each night is as depressing as theirs,” he writes. “Plus she sounds just fine in election chats with Jeff Greenfield (still among the media’s smartest politics watchers after being marginalized into obscurity at CNN, perhaps because he rejected joining its swami multitudes in predicting the future).”


After the jump, Rosenberg adapts the cult of personality model to Anderson Cooper and Tim Russert…

Of CNN anchor Anderson Cooper:

More than just its anchor, Cooper is the weeknight newscast’s illuminated epicenter. Nearly everything he does is accompanied by CNN-generated buzz, and a personal spotlight accompanies him on his CNN travels. That happened most notably during his on-site chronicling of Katrina’s aftermath in 2005 when, with CNN’s blessing, he lashed himself to the catastrophe and assured flood victims he felt their pain. As if Katrina could be validated only by his presence, just as CNN used the disaster to validate him.

Of NBC’s Tim Russert:

In no way do I make light of Russert’s death. As host and impresario of NBC’s “Meet the Press” and chief of its Washington bureau, he was an important journalist. And I accept at face value voluminous testimony from his colleagues and others that he was a swell guy with many admirable qualities. However, part of being a journalist is having the discipline to put events in perspective and understand that what moves you personally may not merit a banner headline.