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Friday, April 7, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Commentary

Can we take Katie Couric as a hard-news journalist?

Seattle Times staff reporter

I've seen Katie Couric swoon and giggle far too many times from her "Today" show perch. That was her charge, or at least it was byproduct of what she, hands down, can be commended for doing: being our morning sweetie and connecting with viewers in a way that stroked the egos of the execs at NBC. "Today," according to The Associated Press, hasn't lost a week in the ratings for more than 10 years. All bow now to Katie.

Couric's jauntiness comes across as authentic enough. And that's probably why so many people like her. She seems friendly and open and as she shared her own stories, especially the death of her husband to colorectal cancer, you had to appreciate her.

But the nightly news isn't banter from your girlfriend. It's serious, sometimes dour stuff. Peter Jennings, Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw, even Walter Cronkite — we've become accustomed to their pace. That straight, baritone, I'm-not-screwing-around delivery. They were the men who escorted us to the grimmest of events: war, then back, then back to war.

Do we really want someone who chirps and skips?

I mean, does Katie Couric anchoring CBS' "Evening News" mean we'll have more featurettes on hunky country singers — "eye"-quotient stuff — between morsels of Iraq and immigration?

I, like a good many of you, fall into that coveted demographic for advertisers on network newscasts: viewers age 25 to 54 years old.

I'm not one to dismiss any person, regardless of sex, who seeks a challenge (Couric said as much in explaining why she'll leave "Today" next month, where she's been for 15 years, and jumping ship to CBS. Her NBC replacement: Meredith Vieira who co-hosts that gal couchfest, "The View" on ABC. She's also the host of the game show "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" )

I also won't ignore the newsworthiness of this story. Couric, 49, is the first woman to be named sole anchor of a network evening newscast. And yes, when women have climbed to the top (in journalism, in athletics, in politics, in the arts), I've applauded and then, as women tend to do when judging other women, I scrutinized them and took it all so personally if they screwed up.

But Katie Couric?

I'll be scrutinizing but for all the wrong reasons: blond highlights? What sort of footwear is she wearing behind that anchor desk tonight?

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You'd do the same thing if what you did played itself out on TV. I realize I'm a local print journalist. But I've wondered plenty while watching my TV colleagues, especially those covering breaking news: That's a good suit you're wearing — one you could run in if you had to chase down some police spokesperson at a shooting scene, and hey, what kind of shoes go with it?

We do this with respected women TV journalists all the time: Who doesn't consider the clothes Christiane Amanpour happens to be wearing, especially if she's got that sooty, up-all-night, I'm-somewhere-in-Bosnia patina? Ann Curry, Couric's "Today" colleague, has good hair and nice buttoned-down shirts. But with them, and with Elizabeth Vargas, Lesley Stahl and Diane Sawyer (sometimes) I move on and pay attention to what's coming out of their mouths.

Why? Because their intellects haven't been clouded by me recalling images of how they looked dressed up as SpongeBob for Halloween. And let's talk body parts. When Couric announced her departure Wednesday morning, she told viewers she was listening to "my heart and my gut" in accepting this new TV adventure. But what about, oh, saying something about having listened to her brain? Isn't that something we would have appreciated hearing Couric speak about, particularly when the nonstop media buzz about her and her leaving always brought up the word gravitas — and her arguable lack of it?

CBS is banking that Couric's celebrity aura will now radiate each day after the sun has set. She's the new face of CBS and she's a fine enough face. She's interviewed countless people and her credentials do include Pentagon correspondent (17 years ago, but still). She'll probably do OK.

Yes, there's an entertainment quotient in TV news. But if this were so much about entertaining and attracting younger viewers, why not gamble on someone already cracking us up from behind an anchor's desk? And no, not Jon Stewart. I'm talking about a woman — Tina Fey from "Saturday Night Live." (And she's already back from maternity leave.)

Florangela Davila: 206-464-2916 or fdavila@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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