October 17, 2007
The Evolution of the News Anchor
For over 50 years Americans have trusted the network news anchors to come into our homes and deliver the news.
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They have told us about putting men on the moon. They have reported on four wars, assassinations, bombings, births and deaths.
We have believed them, unquestioning, trusting them to tell us the truth and never doubted what we were hearing – well almost never.
The matter came up the other night at dinner after reading how poor Katie Couric's ratings are.
"I wonder why she is doing poorly," Karen said. "I think she's great!"
"What? What? Oh, I know, you think it's because she's a woman!"
I smirked again, knowing that this is how arguments start, when Karen accuses me of underestimating the ability of women to function effectively in the world.
"It's not because she's a woman," I explained. "It's because we have grown up getting the news from mature, well-spoken men who exude truthfulness."
I was too young to remember Edward R. Murrow, but I did watch the movie about him that was out last year. What I took away from the film, Goodnight and Good Luck, was that he was against the McCarthy witch hunt and that he was one of the most prolific cigarette smokers of all time. His signature line, the last phrase he uttered before he left the air each night, was "good night and good luck." (That's probably where they got the movie title from.) He was apparently wishing himself and all the other chain smokers "good luck" meaning "I hope you don't die of lung cancer tonight." Eventually he did.
I remember the next wave of anchors: Huntley and Brinkley, Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather. Huntley mumbled, and Brinkley mumbled worse, but they were a great team, because no matter how bad the news was they seem completely nonplussed.
Huntley would say something like, "Today in Dallas President Kennedy was mumble by a mumble. In other news, Tab Hunter had a barbecue mumble, mumble." Then he would turn his head and say "David?" That meant it was Brinkley's turn.
"Mumble mumble Cuban missile mumble. Arnold Palmer mumble at Augusta mumble."
Then it would be time to eat our TV dinners.
Rather had a great career for a while. His amicable Southern drawl allowed him to deliver the news in a slightly down home style that most Americans found soothing. It worked well for years until a series of bizarre incidents revealed that Rather is really a Freakazoid from the planet Xircon and not a fellow human being at all.
First he started spitting out "Danisms:"
"The reelection of Bill Clinton is as secure as a double-knot tied in wet rawhide."
"This race between Dick Swett and Bob Smith is hot and tight as a too-small bathing suit on a too-long car ride back from the beach."
And "It's been 46 years since the moon was full for trick-or-treaters and other things that go bump in the night, as it is this Halloween. And it won't occur again for another 20 years. You could say it happens only once in a 'boo' moon."
Rather spun them as homey colloquialisms that popped out of his mouth. We later learned he had writers knocking them out for him and they weren't spontaneous at all. Finally, Gunga Dan lost all credibility when he claimed a crazy man who repeatedly shouted, "What's the frequency, Kenneth?" beat him up. Finally, of course, he was forced to resign, ostensibly for running an errant report about President Bush's National Guard record but really because he was completely out of his mind, Kenneth.
Walter Cronkite, I told Karen, epitomized the classic news anchor. The tuft of gray hair around his temples said, "mature, intelligent, truthful." His gentle but strong voice delivered the news quietly but forcefully. Katie Couric, I said, could never match a guy like Cronkite.
"Because she's a woman?"
"Exactly," I replied. "She doesn't have a strong voice. She doesn't have graying temples, and she looks stupid in a suit." The American public needs to trust its news anchor, to find comfort and warmth. That's not to say a woman can't handle the job, it's just that she'll need different attributes than a man," I explained.
"Well, large breasts."
I deflected the wine glass she threw at me and continued. "I mean it. The bosom is where men have historically felt most secure, most protected. By returning to that newborn state, when we were the most trusting, would allow us to believe what the mother-figure is telling us about world affairs."
Karen was steaming. "So you're telling me Kathie Lee Gifford would be a better anchor than Katie Couric because she has bigger tits?"
"Well, it would depend on what she was wearing, although Kathie Lee has other problems that would come into play, like, for example, she is dumber than the poop of a Llama."
"So who do you think would make the perfect female news anchor?"
See below, the Evolution of the News Anchor in picture form.