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With Couric, CBS takes a step forward

For an industry unused to making waves, the first woman anchor could prove to be seismic

September 04, 2006|By Verne Gay | Verne Gay,NEWSDAY

"The medium is very cautious," says Sanders, now lecturing and teaching at New York University. "They never lead on anything -- they follow -- so it's finally safe to do this. They should have done this when I was subbing all those years ago. It would have been revolutionary.."

Linda Ellerbee, president of Lucky Duck Productions, the flagship of Nick News, and herself a pioneer in the 1970s as co-anchor of NBC News Overnight, explains that at least three reasons kept the glass ceiling largely intact. Foremost were "the basic economics of television. You fill the seats with mass audience. How do you do that? The first and easiest way is to not offend the viewer. So if the received wisdom is that men are superior in this job to women, then why screw with it? It was easier not to do. Dan, Peter and Tom held those jobs and truthfully, this was not an issue for many years and there was no reason for it to be."

Ironically, when the networks did try female co-anchors -- Walters in 1977 or Chung in 1993 -- those experiments failed spectacularly, and possibly reinforced the bias against female network anchors in general.

There were other theories for the paucity of big-league female anchors on the weeknight newscast. That perhaps women's voices were too high. Or that they didn't instill confidence. Or that women weren't as believable, authoritative or calming as men. Gail Evans, former executive vice president of CNN -- now lecturer on gender, race and ethnicity in organizational behavior at Georgia Tech -- cites a recent study "which shows that people buy into the old stereotype that `women take care and men take charge.' What's fascinating about the study is that women buy into the stereotype as much as men."

Which, of course, presents the greatest unknown about Couric. Says Evans, who worked with Couric in the '70s and hired many of CNN's female anchors, "I say to women all the time, if you want to support yourself, go watch Katie. If women aren't going to buy into women in leadership, why should we expect men to do it?"

Verne Gay writes for Newsday.

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