An Eye on America, And Your Pen

By Lisa de Moraes
Monday, July 17, 2006

PASADENA, Calif., July 16 Like Mentos in a Coke bottle, "CBS Evening News" anchor Katie Couric sprayed humility across a packed ballroom of press, set off by the subject of her departure from NBC's "Today" show, the state of TV journalism and the ouster of Dan Rather.

Joined on Sunday by CBS News chief Sean McManus at the Ritz Carlton Huntington Hotel, Couric was making the final stop on her whirlwind "Eye on America" tour. She embarked on the trip with her entourage to hear what preselected little people and local celebs had to say about the state of evening news -- and to get her picture taken, stop at the local CBS station in that market and, according to press reports, confiscate the pen of a blogger who attended one "listening" session.

Couric said it was her idea to ban the press from the tour because it was an "internal exercise" and she didn't want the pre-screened audience of suburban moms and politicians to think CBS was using them "as some kind of promotional device" -- "didn't want them to feel nervous about being videotaped."

"It wasn't a photo op or a press opportunity, and that's the way we wanted to handle it," she said of the listening tour, on which, she said, she learned that viewers think "the news is just too depressing," want "more perspective" and "greater context," "want us to go a little bit deeper" and would like to be told "how this is relevant to their lives."

"I think we sometimes get a little bit sucked into this world where we think everybody's living and breathing what we're doing," Couric said of the frenzy of press coverage about her move from NBC to CBS and the kerfuffle about the closed-door tour. "Americans are dealing with things that affect them much more directly."

While the reporters, critics and bloggers attempted to swallow that one, she told them her transition from co-host of NBC's morning infotainment show "Today" to the anchor of the CBS evening newscast was "one of the most civil transitions in network history."

She said Jeff Immelt, chief executive officer of NBC parent General Electric had a meeting with her and told her: "I get it." And the "folks at CBS were great about not gloating even though I'm . . . whatever," she said, catching herself just in the nick of time. "You know how it works in this business and NBC couldn't have been more gracious."

On replacing Bob Schieffer -- who's been anchoring the CBS evening newscast for 16 months to buffer Katie from CBS's tawdry push-out of Dan Rather, Couric said, "Bob didn't want this job indefinitely; he's done a superb job and happens to be one of the nicest people I've ever met."

She didn't want America to get the impression she was the "new kid" bumping him out of the chair, and in one of those coincidences that really buck up those covering the TV news business, McManus had announced at the start of the press conference that CBS News had recycled a new long-term deal with Schieffer, who would continue to play a large role on the evening newscast and they were still on talks about whether he'd do regular commentary for the program.

"Bob personifies some of the things" she hopes to impart as anchor of the evening news, Couric said.

"Bob is very accessible. He speaks plain English." He also gives people a "comfort level" and viewers feel they are "learning about the world with him" instead of him "imparting news from the mountaintop."

But when asked to comment on the circumstances of Rather, the man she really replaced, Couric said, "As a journalist I don't feel it's appropriate" to comment on "something I wasn't involved with, to be honest with you."

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