06/13/2007 03:47 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Tarting Up = Dumbing Down?

Ah, those old-school journalistic warhorses, titans of another age, desperately clinging to anachronistic ideas from the days when female journalists were simply Girls in the Balcony.
Today's installment from Stereotype Central comes from former CBS news anchor Dan Rather, who told Joe Scarborough on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" program on Monday that CBS made a big "mistake" in hiring Katie Couric, because they wanted: "to try to bring the Today show ethos to the Evening News, and to dumb it down, tart it up in hopes of attracting a younger audience."

I'll be talking about Rather's comments, and the controversy surrounding them, on Fox News Network's The Big Story with John Gibson today, Wed., June 13, at 5pm Eastern (or check your local listings)

I'm certain the segment will be short, so I don't know how much I'll be able to get across -- but, I hope to discuss the deeply sexist nature of Rather's comment about Couric "tarting up" the news, while also noting the part of Rather's statement that was true (the fact that the news is being "dumbed down"), and why.

Calling a female journalist a "tart" is dismissive, degrading and out of line. Would rather say that Charles Gibson, former Good Morning America personality, is "tarting up the news" at ABC's World News Tonight? Women in a position of extreme journalistic power? Oh, no! Their boobs will addle their brains and we'll end up with crappy coverage! As I've said before, when it comes to broadcast journalism, the definition of "gravitas" has tended to be "has a penis, and maybe a toupee."

This is just part of the same ideological continuum that led to the Anchorwoman reality show I wrote about recently, in which CBS and Fox are teaming up to cast a bikini model as a news anchor for a CBS affiliate in Texas, and then filming the vapid fallout for the Fox reality show.

This biased notion that women can't deliver the news as credibly as men, that women "tart up" the news, is long-held and persistent in the media industry and, unfortunately, has come up repeatedly in discussions about Couric's tenure as CBS's lead anchor, as WIMN"s guest blogger Elizabeth Hines wrote a while back.

That said...

Rather wasn't wrong in his contention that CBS made a strategic decision to dumb down the news by bringing in The Today Show ethos. Hiring a morning show personality to anchor the influential evening news was a problem -- but it would have been just as problematic if CBS had hired Matt Louer. (Long-term WIMN"s Voices readers may remember me pointing out this problem when ABC transferred Charles Gibson from GMA to World News Tonight. The problem isn't that Katie is a woman, it's that she was from The Today Show, where the obsessive focus is on which name-brand pashmina viewers can purchase for their spring wardrobes, which celebrities are in jail this week, and which movies people should spend ten bucks to see over the weekend. CBS could have, should have, picked any one of many exceptionally qualified, hard-hitting female news reporters to anchor their lineup. They didn't, and they've been suffering due not specifically to Katie Couric but to the many light-weight changes in the newscast under her lead.

So, wish me luck -- and tune in tonight, 5pm, Fox News, The Big Story with John Gibson. Want to see more feminists brought into discussions about media sexism on The Big Story with John Gibson? Once you've watched the segment, let Fox News know by sending your feedback to myword[at]foxnews[dot]com. (Please forward or BLIND COPY your letters to WIMN: info[at]wimnonline[dot]org)

Thoughts or feedback about the segment, or about the topic? I"d love to hear them.

ALSO, A REQUEST TO YOU-TUBERS: If anyone can record and post the Fox segment tonight to YouTube, I'd much appreciate it! If you do, please let WIMN know. Thanks!

This post originally appeared at WIMN"s Voices: A Group Blog on Women and the Media, a project of Women In Media & News, the national women's media analysis, education and advocacy group. To bring Jennifer L. Pozner to speak to your campus or community group, or to send her blog tips, email info [at] wimnonline [dot] org. To subscribe to WIMN's free media alert list, see the Action Center at