In making some of their choices for key anchor slots, many national network news operations aren't exactly choosing the next Walter Cronkite, John Chancellor, David Brinkley, Peter Jennings, Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw.
Like them or not, these were eminences that exuded authority and knowledge of how the world worked and always will work. This authority and knowledge came from many years of political and war reporting, of being stationed in intriguing foreign capitals, of Rolodexes thick with names of undersecretaries, intelligence officials and charge d'affaires who would risk their career and more to talk on background.
It was a slight, balding, non-beefcake-to-the-top-of-the-scale ABC-TV anchor John Scali who - in secret negotiations with a Soviet go-between he knew - eased the path for Khrushchev and Kennedy to find a way for the Soviets to pull their nuclear missles out of Cuba.
Somehow, I have difficulty picturing new "ABC News Tonight" co-anchor Liz Vargas pulling that one off.
Now, we are seeing a generation of anchors get appointed who may be telegenic, but have earned their stripes doing lifestyle pieces, interviewing celebrities about their latest book or movie - and instead of attending and working sources during cocktail parties in foreign embassies, are far more likely to be seen attending and hugging fellow celebrities at cocktail parties thrown by the likes of non-newsworthy types such P Diddy and Martha Stewart.
Want names? OK:
CNN tosses out Aaron Brown for Anderson Cooper. Brown, a literate anchor with an offbeat sensibility, is pitched for a more youthful type who - despite being the son of Gloria Vanderbilt - is gaining his serious journalist chops. Still, Cooper's resume does not reflect many years at the top levels of news-gathering and/or news presentation.
ABC News replaces its late "World News Tonight" anchor with predominantly lifestyle and celebrity reporter Elizabeth Vargas and with Bob Woodruff, who does have serious broadcast journalist chops but like Anderson Cooper, lacks the lengthy resume of some alternatives.
ABC replaces its now-retired "Nightline" anchor Ted Koppel, not with a serious reporter-journalist such as Chris Bury or John Donvan, but with a triumverate that includes a reporter best known for getting Michael Jackson to talk about who he likes to share his bed with.
And now, we read that CBS News is drooling over Katie Couric as their ideal permanent replacement for Dan Rather on the CBS Evening News. Couric is a smart, possibly brilliant woman whohas lived a rich, full life full of life's gifts and tragedies, but I still think of her within the confines of the "Today" show - and the diet of self-promoting movie stars, authors, and advice experts that come to her table hoping to sell more books or movie tix.
At the same time these appointments were being made, I went to see "Good Night, and Good Luck," a picture mostly about legendary CBS News anchor Edward R. Murrow's battle with Joe McCarthy. I wonder how many of these new focus-tested, impeccably groomed, celebrity-interviewing news anchors would have the chops and the guts to take on some of today's more noxious political figures?
It's almost a "duh" to note that these choices were made because of calculations that network news ratings are sliding largely because younger folks are not watching these broadcasts. So maybe if these younger folks see one of their own, someone who doesn't look like their grandparent, they will tune in again, and we'll get more viewers and sell more ads. This is what happens when formerly autonomous networks become a division of entertainment oriented conglomerates responsible for churning out hit movies, theme park promotions, and swimsuit magazine covers. And of pleasing shareholders.
I have no problem with lifestyle pieces at the end of news broadcasts that tell us what matters. But let lifestyle reporters do those segments. Just don't let these puff piece promoters in the anchor chair where so many greats have told us and helped bring into perspective the important news of the last 50 years.
I'd like to see a rule: you attend one party with P Diddy or Martha Stewart, and you don't get to be prime time news anchor at my network.