Thursday, March 8, 2007

Hillary & Katie: Is Gender All That Matters?

On Slate, Rebecca Dana writes today about what Hillary Clinton can "learn" from Katie Couric's first few underwhelming months as the anchor of CBS' nightly news. Why should Hillary look to Katie for pointers? Because, Dana points out, they're both women--and apparently people respond to all "women in charge" the same way, whether they're running for president or running clips of dogs in party hats. I think the article is a reach, 1) because I don't buy Dana's central argument (see above) and 2) because she does nothing to address the issue of how, in the case of Couric, the actual content of her show--not simply the gender of its host--might have something to do with why people won't watch it.

This is not my way of saying that I don't believe that a certain percentage of the population has a problem with a woman being in charge--I absolutely do. But as both a loyal television viewer and a self-identified feminist who was over the moon that a woman was finally sitting in a seat of power, I'll tell you: I don't like the Couric show and I rarely watch it, and that has nothing to do with gender. It has to do with the fact that when I watch Couric's broadcast I don't feel like I'm actually watching the news. An evening version of The Today Show, maybe, but not what I've come to crave on the off chance I'm actually home in time to see what's on at 6:30. And I don't think I'm alone, either in my predilection for receiving a different version of what matters on a daily basis or my ability to separate the content I'm being provided from the perceived "authority" (that's a code word for gender) of my host.

I will agree with Dana on one point, and that is that what Hillary can learn from Katie is how and why "the material" matters. Though it may shape itself differently in the political ring than it does on the screen, what Hillary should be taking note of is the fact that folks really aren't as dumb as consultants sometimes make them seem. Substance does matter, and if Hillary can stick with providing us the proverbial meat and potatoes we want, she's got a good shot at making this bid work. And if she can''t... well, maybe CBS will be looking for a co-anchor.

ADDENDUM: Given viewer response to Couric's interview with John and Elizabeth Edwards, perhaps I'm wrong to assume that people can be as nuanced about their views as I give them credit for. 3/27/07

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