CBS anchor doesn't understand Iraq fixation

CBS “Evening News” anchor Katie Couric said Americans were “misled” on the rationale for going to war in Iraq, and the media didn’t ask enough tough questions of the Administration.

Couric included herself in that group, but said that as a co-anchor of “Today,” she felt corporate pressure from NBC after a tough interview with Condoleezza Rice.

After the interview, Couric said she received an email from an NBC exec “forwarded without explanation” from a viewer who wrote that she had been “unnecessarily confrontational.”

“I think there was a lot of undercurrent of pressure not to rock the boat for a variety of reasons, where it was corporate reasons or other considerations,” she said in an interview with former journalist and author Marvin Kalb during “The Kalb Report” forum at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Couric was careful not to make any controversial judgments during her reporting tour of Iraq and Syria, and made it clear to Kalb she was not looking for a “Walter Cronkite moment,” referring to Cronkite’s determination that Vietnam was not winnable.

“Is it my job to go to Iraq and say this war is terrible and we should pull out? I don’t think that’s the case,” she said.

But on the run-up to the war, Couric said she still doesn’t understand the Administration’s fixation on Iraq.

“I’ve never understood why (Iraq) was so high on the nation’s agenda, when terrorism was going on in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and there was no connection between Iraq and 9-11,” she said.

Kalb, a 30-year veteran of CBS and NBC, broached the subject of ratings, and whether Americans are ready to accept a female evening news anchor.

“I think there probably remains an underlying discomfort in this country with women in power,” Couric said.

The decision to adopt a more traditional approach to the newscast, after experimenting with longer stories and interviews last spring, is a bid to appeal to the core audience of evening newscasts, which have a median age of 60.

“To make a change, you risk alienating your core audience for another audience that may not exist at that hour of the day,” she said. “At times, I get frustrated because I love interacting with people and love reporting; that is where my skills really lie.”

Kalb asked Couric if she intends to leave the anchor chair after the 2008 election and segue into a full-time role at “60 Minutes,” a move predicted by some pundits.

“That’s not true,” she said, adding that she intended to remain anchor of the “Evening News.”

“Clearly I would like more people to watch,” she said. “Having said that, more than 6 million people are watching and that’s an extremely large number and I feel honored that many people are trusting us every night.”

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