Emulating the "listening tour" of Hillary Clinton when she first ran for the Senate, the newly minted anchor of the CBS Evening News, Katie Couric, is embarking on a listening tour of her own. Executive Producer Rome Hartman says, "It's an attempt to hear from regular folks on a whole broad range of things that help us make decisions on how we can better serve our viewers."
The general manager of the CBS affiliate in Denver, Walt DeHaven, said in a press release that when Couric visits his city, "She intends to meet a diverse cross section [of people] so that she can really get to the heart of the community."
In order to be in the presence of the first female permanent anchor of a broadcast evening news program, one must fill out an application. From those applications, "100 people from all cross sections of the community will be contacted and given the opportunity to participate" in the July 13 forum.
I suppose this is good public relations, though Couric is already one of the most recognizable faces in the country. What I don't get is DeHaven's comment that Couric's visit will help her "understand what Coloradans feel is important, what issues our community faces and how she can help bring significant news stories to television viewers, not only in Denver, but nationwide."
By the time one ascends to the anchor chair at a broadcast network, shouldn't it be assumed that the person already knows what news looks like and what the public needs to know? Does a surgeon ask a patient for advice before operating? If our children say they want cereal for dinner, instead of a balanced meal, do we agree to their tastes, or tell them to eat their vegetables?
Will the Denver visit (San Diego and San Francisco have also been selected for visits by Couric) include ideological diversity? If a conservative gets up (assuming he or she clears the screening process) will that person be allowed to ask why conservative views and values are rarely covered, except in stereotype? And if that question is asked, will it make a difference how Couric, who will be managing editor, orders up such stories?
The Media Research Center has compiled a record of Couric's liberal pronouncements on various subjects. The introduction says, "Since becoming co-host of NBC's Today in April 1991, Katie Couric has often used her perch to salute her liberal heroes (including Hillary Clinton and Jimmy Carter) or complain about 'right-wing conservatives.' In her years on Today, she's lectured Charlton Heston about the need for gun control, championed the need for campaign finance 'reform,' and even touted the wonders of France's nanny state." Her perspective is unlikely to change after one listening tour.
There were tours by journalists when I was with NBC News in the 1960s and '70s, but those were different. Foreign correspondents would come home from their posts and visit college campuses and other venues. They would "report" on their areas of expertise and the effectiveness of U.S. policy in the region. The audience asked serious questions about the countries, ranging from their military strength and political intentions, to their economies. Correspondents did not solicit the views of the audience so they might do a better job covering the news. The audience solicited the views of the correspondents, believing them to have important information they needed and wanted to hear.
I'm all for anchors visiting "fly-over country," but given their privileged lives, large salaries, and the similar worldview held by their friends and professional associates, don't look for Katie's listening tour to be much more than hype for the new CBS Evening News.
Here's how we'll know if Couric pays attention to what conservatives want to see: Katie will do stories on heroes in Iraq; a religious conservative will not be called "intolerant" for wanting to protect the unborn, or preserve marriage between men and women; terrorists are treated as evil and the Bush administration, which is trying to defeat them, is at least occasionally portrayed as the good side.
Don't hold your breath, but do keep the remote handy.
-© 2006 Tribune Media Services, Inc.