BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — Katie Couric has one, unambiguous message: Despite the hype suggesting she plans a quick exit from the CBS Evening News, the anchor's not going anywhere anytime soon.
"We have no plans to part company," Couric told a group of TV critics on Friday. Rumors in the press earlier this year suggested she would leave the show after the presidential election or after the inauguration.
“There were a lot of speculative pieces that I think got, quite frankly, spun out of control," she added, speaking to reporters in California by satellite from New York City. "When you work with an organization, you have ongoing discussions. (But) I am very committed to the people here. I'm very committed to the product."
Flanked by Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer, political analyst Jeff Greenfield and CBS News president Sean McManus, Couric seemed to cut a different figure than the glamorous news celebrity who took over the network's flagship news program nearly two years ago.
Stressing the show's quality and the work to come covering politics and war, CBS presented a deglamorized Couric, someone more in tune with the traditional priorities of the evening news audience and still hopeful they would give her show a chance.
On the question, for example, of why all three network news anchors are traveling with Democratic candidate Barack Obama on his trip to Iraq next week, Couric was candid: Obama's organization was smart enough to invite the press along.
"It was very deft on the part of the Obama campaign," she said, noting she spent time in McCain's campaign headquarters for a story to air next week. Had McCain invited reporters when he toured four Middle East countries in March, they would have considered it, she said. Although, "Obama going to the Middle East is a bigger story."
My question: Why are such high-powered journalists depending on campaign staffers to invite them to cover the news, anyway?
The group also defended foreign correspondent Lara Logan — Schieffer called her "the greatest reporter of her generation" — despite recent messy headlines about her personal life and criticism of the way CBS News handled some of her stories.
Couric and Co. had few answers for why the CBS Evening News as recently as April notched record low ratings, as viewers still hesitate to watch a show now winning major journalism awards and acknowledged by critics as equal to the competition.
"We can do what we've said from day one: which is put on the best quality newscast we can," said McManus. "I continue to believe that if we do that, more people will watch."
Eric Deggans can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8521. Read his blog, The Feed, at blogs.tampabay.com/media.