Is a New Day Dawning for Katie Couric?

A journalist who was not a fan of NBC's Today show found herself interviewed by Katie Couric... and blown away by her interviewing abilities. Now she thinks Couric would make a great evening news anchor.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

There's been a lot of chatter in television circles about whether NBC's popular Today Show host, Katie Couric, is going to leave NBC for the evening anchor slot at CBS. Her contract expires in May. Commentator Geneva Overholser is a journalism professor at the University of Missouri, and she was no fan of the Today Show. Then she was interviewed by Katie Couric about ethics in journalism. Now she wonders what it would be like to have Couric host the evening news.

Professor GENEVA OVERHOLSER (Journalism, University of Missouri): I've been trying to picture what it would be like to click on the CBS Evening News and see Katie Couric in the anchor seat. Pretty cool, I think. Something like that little frisson when Gina Davis gave orders to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs in the first Commander in Chief episode, only better, since this would be real.

Others have been picturing Couric in the anchor's chair, too, and they're getting shivers of a different sort, to see her in the seat held by Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, they say, would be the end of the once proud network newscast. She giggles too much. She hasn't covered war enough. She lacks gravitas.

I don't see the Today Show often. When I do, it dismays me. I remember one morning in particular, before the Iraq war began, when the vice president had made a defining speech that led the front pages. Today barely mentioned it, lingering lavishly on some food or fashion silliness.

Indeed, my view of the show was low enough that when I appeared on it sometime later, I was amazed at what a terrific interviewer Couric was. Smart, focused, knowledgeable. Surely Couric's critics, some of whom seem ready to hold her responsible for the whole entertainment-driven, profit-spewing media scene of our times, know that the show is not the person.

The perky giggler these critics assail, is a 49-year-old widow and mother of two who has vigorously championed the fight against colon cancer, which killed her husband so early. A respected reporter who has skillfully interviewed many of the powerful figures of our time, she has a national reputation that would be virtually impossible for CBS to match.

So what do the critics really mean? One man's gravitas is another's on air self-importance. That cocked eyebrow and self consciously magisterial, slightly sideways profile. You know what I mean. It's lampooned by comedians from Will Ferrell to John Stewart. But in an era when a wistful yearning for manliness can be taken seriously by some, anyway, as a book subject, not everyone gets the joke.

I think the real story of the retro characterizations of Couric is depressingly simple. Authority speaks with a baritone. If you're pretty and warm and charming, you can't also be bright and serious and substantial. Interestingly, Couric's critics want to have it both ways as they prejudge the CBS anchor scenario.

The job is far too big and serious and important for her, and anchors don't really matter anymore, anyway, as will surely be clear if Katie gets the job. The fact is that the anchor job does count, of course, and seeing a woman in that seat will have enormous impact.

We need risk, openness, liveliness, inclusion. I'm betting CBS executives will hire Couric to fill the big evening seat and they'll be very glad they did because a lot of people will be intrigued to see her there and she'll be terrific.

And perky, courageous Katie will get the last laugh or giggle.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Geneva Overholser is a professor at the University of Missouri School of Journalism.

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