Katie Couric, Handcuffs on a 13-year-old, and the Future of Journalism
I don't watch the Today Show and I don't watch the CBS Evening News. The media world is atwitter with rumors that Katie Couric will jump from one to the other. Here's why it shouldn't happen:
I saw about three minutes of the Today Show this morning because I happened to flip to that channel to find out how cold it was outside. Couric was interviewing the parents of a girl who was handcuffed on a school bus and their attorneys. I hadn't heard anything about this case, but I've now had a chance to read a bit about it, and I feel confident of two things:
1. The cop was wrong to handcuff the girl.
2. The girl was not harmed in any serious way.
Ordinarily, this would be a minor story that no national news outlet would carry. But because the school bus had a security camera, that makes it huge news in the eyes of the Today Show. Fine. I really don't care what the Today Show broadcasts.
I do care, though, about fairness to people like the police officer, who, because he was the subject of a national news story will now likely never live down what was, ultimately, a rather minor mistake. And there was nothing fair at all about this interview. Couric gravely intoned that the girl was injured so badly that she had to go to the hospital. Not an ounce of skepticism came from Couric's mouth, even as the home audience was treated to a laughable photograph of the girl's wrists. The parents said they took their daughter to the emergency room, where she was treated for a contusion. Do you know, dear reader, what a contusion is? It's a bruise. The girl's wrists were slightly reddened. If you have fair skin like the girl in question, you can make your own wrists red right now. Just firmly grip your right hand around your left wrist, let go, and you have a contusion. Do you feel the need to go to the emergency room?
So what does this have to do with the future of journalism? The person who sits in the anchor chair at CBS Evening News isn't just a reader of a TelePrompTer. He (or, perhaps soon, she) is the public face of important news events. The next time truly serious news breaks, millions of Americans will turn to the person in the anchor chair at CBS. If that person is Katie Couric, viewers will be hearing about history in the making from the kind of person whose news judgment prevents her from knowing the difference between bruised wrists and police brutality.