Journalism

Moonves calls Rather’s remarks sexist, but who’s the real sexist here?

So, CBS CEO Les Moonves thinks Dan Rather’s comments about Katie Couric are sexist, huh?

CBS Corp. Chief Executive Leslie Moonves shot back at former CBS news anchor Dan Rather today, saying remarks Rather made about his successor, Katie Couric, were “sexist.”Rather, speaking on MSNBC by phone on Monday, said CBS had made the mistake of taking the evening news broadcast and “dumbing it down, tarting it up,” and playing up topics such as celebrities over war coverage. The comments appeared in blogs and in a story published today in the New York Daily News.

While referring to Couric as a “nice person,” Rather said “the mistake was to try to bring the ‘Today’ show ethos to the ‘Evening News,’ and to dumb it down, tart it up in hopes of attracting a younger audience.” (Story.)

Well, here’s what I think.

Dan shouldn’t have used the term “tarting it up” because that allowed Moonves to fire back without addressing the issue – which, of course, is that Couric is a disgraceful lightweight and Moonves made one of the worst management decisions in the history of TV news. If we want to search for a better term, that’s fine. But Rather’s disparaging assessment of what CBS did is accurate. If anything, he was charitable. Maybe Les is sensitive because his hare-brained decision has driven CBS News ratings to a 20-year low?

But that aside, any sexism that actually exists in this little melodrama arguably lies with Moonves, not Rather. Moonves made a fairly transparent decision to – jeez, what words are safe to use here? – perk things up a bit. (“Perk” isn’t sexist, is it?) CBS didn’t make a move toward credible, serious journalism, it reached for an attractive woman who was a proven ratings grabber (albeit not in a news environment). Now, what kinds of rationales play into that decision? What kinds of perfectly non-gendered concerns lead a man like Moonves to hand such a job to Katie Couric? Hmmm…..

I’ve never been a Dan Rather fan, really. But pointing at sexism doesn’t make you a sexist. I’ve seen enough of CBS “news” programming to know that if you’re a female, being pretty doesn’t hurt anything. Is that a coincidence?

Maybe one day Les Moonves will preside over a non-sexist operation at CBS. Until then, he needs to shut up, step off, and sit down.

9 replies »

  1. The idea that using the word “tart” allowed the CBS exec to bail out of a real conversation is valid. Rather’s words were been ill-chosen, but certainly not sexist.

    On the other hand, CBS hiring Couric for ratings is really not the issue. Actually, hiring a younger, prettier, talking head just means that the stories are coming out of a more appealing mouth. But what really matters is the type of stories chosen.

    A shame that Couric–who I think does her job just fine–should be the scapegoat for what is at the heart of it an issue about changing viewer preferences and corporate driven fluff news stories.

    Dan Rather has a point. But Couric should not be gashed by it.

  2. Couric is a catastrophe no matter how we look at it. CBS’s ratings are in the toilet – lower than they were with Schieffer (everybody’s grandpa) or Rather (the whipping boy of the Right).

    Moonves took the chicken shit route by attacking one ill chosen phrase (at least ill chosen if one takes offense at calling them as they are) – CBS News whored itself out – to entertainment. THAT’S the problem….

  3. I think CBS should acquire, say, a couple of thousand birds that are capable of repeating, say, a couple of dozen words each. You know, parrots, parakeets, mockingbirds, whatever.

    Then each bird should be trained to say different words. One could be trained to say “vice,” one trained to say “president,” one trained to say “Dick,” one trained to say “Cheney,” one trained to say “lying,” one trained to say “son,” one trained to say “of” — you get the idea.

    Then each bird would be videotaped saying each of its words.

    Then, when the Teleprompter script for the news is written, a computer program would link each word to its bird, calling up the bird’s image on the screen. The result: the news would be broadcast in a series of thousands of images of brightly coloured birds, with the sequence of bird images different every night.

    That way, there would be no need for an anchor at all.

    I’m trying to figure out a way to refer to the possibility of going bowling and then having a fish fry with Lara Logan, but I’m not having any luck.

  4. The news was tarted up and dumbed down long before Katie Couric came to town…. I mean, how do you think we ended up with such a catastrophic failure as George W. Bush and his junta, if the media was doing it’s job? Well…it wasn’t. Nor was in the run up to the war. If anything, it egged on the effort, publishing and broadcasting every single lie to come from this most corrupt of all administrations without any question. And now, we are in an immensely deep hole with the blood of over half a million Iraqi’s on our hands, a destroyed country and a military in shambles. No… the media was quite dumb and tarted before Ms. Couric came along.

  5. You’re right, NormanX. We are starved for real news. The only place to go is Free Speech TV Democraxy Now. And thank heavens for the Internet. Without it we’d really be in the dark. Katie couric may be a nice person, but, to say that she’s a news anchor is a bit of an exaggeration since the show is a fluffy magazine show. Intelligent people in this country are being short-changed by trashy American TV in all its phases.

  6. I really like felixwas’s idea. I’d like to tart it up a bit by suggesting that interspersed with the birds CBS use words from hot newsbabes, or Page Three girls, etc. I’d watch that. Although, when I really think about it, I’d prefer just the birds. I withdraw my suggestion. Does this mean I support the terrorists?

  7. Couric is the news director…which makes her influence minimally more than if she was a “mere reporter”…but really, if Couric decided to air stories on structural inequalities and American capitalist ecxploitation, how far would she get?

    Couric is like the driver of a Greyhound Bus…she has her own personality, own voice used to deliver announcements over the PA system, and even a slightly different average route time…

    but, in the end, she is not the one determining the routes.

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