You might be familiar with this rural expression. “Katy, bar the door” was said as an exclamation of some sort of impending danger. Legend has it that the phrase derived from a historical incident way back in 1437.
On February 20th of that year, King James I of Scotland was assassinated by a band of killers led by Robert Graeme, while he was staying in a Dominican house in Perth. Graeme had help in the affair, since the king’s chamberlain had made sure that all locks and bolts were removed from the king’s room. However, one of the queen’s ladies-in-waiting was to make a permanent name for herself in an act of heroism, even if it did not prevent the murder.
Catherine Douglas, later to be known as Katy Barlass, seeing that their party was under attack, placed her own arm across the door, in place of the bar, that had been removed by the traitor. As the door was relentlessly forced by Graeme’s group, eventually her arm broke, and the killers made good their plan.
Fast forward to the meltdown world of antique media evening news. While the old nets’ share of business has been eroding for some years, given all the competition from cable, home video, and just plain better things to do than watch commercial television, ratings of the CBS Evening News have been worse than ABC’s and NBC’s.
For those of you keeping score, the legacy of the anchor spot on that program has not been particularly stunning. The last holder of the position (not counting Bob Schieffer’s fill-in role) was Dan Rather, an incredibly sycophantic liberal from Texas with a gigantic inferiority complex. Rather’s exit was sped up by the presentation of an infamous forgery of an anti-Bush letter.
Before Rather was the so-called “most trusted man in America,” Walter Cronkite, a veteran reporter, who came up through the ranks with Ed Murrow, both making their bones during World War II. Murrow and Cronkite were hard-core Leftists, but, then, so was Bill Paley of CBS, so they were all in good company, and could hide it well. After all, the only other influential media outlet to speak of in New York at the time was the Times, and the Times had been Leftist since the 1930’s, and elitist since forever.
Many forget that the Times was the lone media voice in NYC cheerleading the vastly locally unpopular Lincoln and his Civil War. Although the paper was established in 1851, we can guess which side it would have supported, had it been around in 1776.
In retrospect, of course, Cronkite, was anything but trustworthy, especially when he characterized the massive failure of Hanoi’s Tet Offensive of 1968 as somehow a defeat of the Americans. Cronkite was not alone in this deception, as the sensationalistic video could not help to give this impression. Ironically, General Westmoreland’s request for more troops, which was put forth to take advantage of the enemy’s grave setback, was interpreted instead as an act of desperation.
There is little doubt that this matter was the turning point of the Vietnam war, marking the first time that a victory was sold as a defeat to the American public. And, the public, with no alternative to the three Nets, mostly bought into the deception. In fairness, CBS could not have accomplished all this on their own. It also took an astonishingly incompetent Defense Department, under the “leadership” of soon-to-be-dumped whiz-kid Robert McNamara, to completely undermine the nation’s confidence.
Now, in steps the perky one—Katie (looks cuter than Katy) Couric to save the day for network evening news. While her heroism doesn’t run to sacrificing body parts to save a king, she did offer up a live colonoscopy, replete with thong underwear dropping to the floor. My take is that she will be just as successful in saving the format as Kate Barlass was in saving her king.
But, in these days of 24/7 news coverage via cable, radio, and Internet sources, we should ask about the demographic of evening news. What is CBS getting for the $15 million salary, and what in the world are the advertisers picking up?
If there is anything in this demo beyond 85-year-old true believers who still long for Cronkite, TV addicts who just keep the box on all day, and a drastically deprived bunch who don’t have a radio, cable, or Internet access, please do fill me in.