Monday, June 26, 2006

Tube roses & thorns III

The death of perky

We're still months from the dawn of the Couric Era of the CBS Evening News, but the Tiffany Network isn't wasting any time telling its viewers that a new day is at hand, and not. And who better to reassure the American public than the crusty, folksy, avuncular, plain-spoken anchor they've come to know and love -- Bob Schieffer?

For about a week now, CBS has been using Schieffer to prime the pump with promos heralding the big change. They're largely meant to dispel the idea that everything recognizable about the CBS Evening News will morph in September, when Couric takes over, permanently, the big chair vacated by Dan Rather in March 2005.

For one thing, Schieffer announces that when Couric comes aboard, he'll be going back to his old perch in Foggy Bottom as Washington correspondent, a post he occupied for years. Score one for continuity.

And then there's the image of the new Katie, something that's a telling visual epitaph for her "perky" persona. As Schieffer extols the virtues of "my friend Katie Couric," a short video clip comes up showing Couric, hair properly done, wearing a navy blue suit and a simple strand of pearls (Mikimoto, no doubt), an ensemble meant to convey the gravitas of her new position. Safe to say, folks, we've seen the last of perky Katie in a SpongeBob costume.

Whither Woodruff?

At least CBS has a succession plan in place, along with NBC, whose "Nightly News With Brian Williams" has been percolating nicely for more than eighteen months. ABC, however, has seen its plans for news anchor succession go up in clouds of smoke, one of those clouds from an IED in Iraq.

This all started on Jan. 29, when newly-crowned ABC news co-anchor Bob Woodruff and a colleague were wounded -- Woodruff seriously -- in an explosion near Taji, Iraq, about 12 miles north of Baghdad. Even while Woodruff recovered, there were new reports of infighting at ABC -- and new revelations that threw an already-chaotic process into further disarray.

Elizabeth Vargas, named with Woodruff as a co-anchor late last year, announced her intention to go on maternity leave, a disclosure that caught ABC brass by surprise.

The crazy to-and-fro finally resolved itself when Vargas resigned from ABC on May 23, citing her need to focus on the family she already had and the addition she was expecting. On May 29 ABC named Charles Gibson -- longtime mainstay of "Good Morning America" and a periodic "World News Tonight" substitute anchor after Peter Jennings' death -- to be the new sole anchor of "World News Tonight." ABC had gone through no fewer than three network news anchors in less than eighteen months.

Besides that unusual but still unsettling burn rate, ABC is facing a real dilemma: Now that they've invested money, prestige and branding to announce the ascension of Charles Gibson to the big chair ... what's to be done with Bob Woodruff, when he's ready to go back to work?

Woodruff was gracious, to be sure. In a statement on ABC News' Web site, Woodruff said "Charlie Gibson is a mentor and a friend. I look forward to contributing to his broadcast as soon as I'm able."

ABC News president David Westin, in a statement on the Web site the same day, said "Charlie's taking over 'World News Tonight' will give Bob Woodruff the extended period that he needs to recover and return to the air for ABC News. All of us look forward to that day, but it will be on Bob's timetable, not ours."

But get real: Having effectively kicked Woodruff to the curb, what kind of role has ABC/will ABC carve out for the man who started the year as the heir apparent to Peter Jennings? Unless that blast in Iraq relieved Woodruff of every shred of his professional ego, it's hard to imagine him embracing a third- or fourth-fiddle role his promotion last December suggests he'd never had had to accept.

Now as before ... stay tuned.

Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Apocalypse Tuesday II

Besides generating the usual fears of the Triple Beast Number, this year's edition of June 6 also issued an omen of sorts for the GOP. The good folks at the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press are at it again, with what conservatives will no doubt reflexively call another downbeat liberal poll.

But there's a difference with this latest sampling of the American mood. With a bigger polling population, Pew's new report comes much closer to being a real sampling of that feeling about the Bush administration, a mood that is souring among the most loyal conservatives, a bloc of voters whose ribs are made of something less durable than rock these days.

"As public approval of George W. Bush languishes at all-time low levels, supporters of the president are increasingly hard to find," says the Pew report, written by Courtney Kennedy and Michael Dimock. "In the months following his re-election, roughly half of the country rated Bush's job performance favorably. Today only a third of Americans do so, while more than half (56%) disapprove of his performance."

It gets worse among the presumably faithful, Pew reports. "While the decline in support transcends ideological and demographic lines, the drop among one group – moderate Republicans – has been especially steep. Among all Republicans, Bush's job approval rating has dropped 20 percentage points since December 2004 (from 89% to 69%). This erosion of support has been most severe among Republicans describing themselves as moderate or liberal ... "

If you can imagine, it gets even worse than that. The Soccer Mom Contingent, that bloc of voters whose solidity in the GOP corner last election was considered a bellwether for the future of national politics, is also vacating the premises:

"Within the Republican Party, moderate women stand out for their lack of support for the president. Through most of Bush's presidency he has been evaluated similarly by men and women within the GOP, but this latest survey shows signs of a potential gender gap."

If a high tide lifts all boats, a hurricane wipes 'em all out, and that's what's happening to the Bush administration among voters who are and aren't Republicans. Across the board, GOP supporters including white evangelical Protestants, senior citizens, Catholics and high-income earners are down on the president and his policies. And his support among Latinos (no doubt already subject to erosion because of policies related to the immigration debate) and black voters (who weren't that solidly in his corner to start with, despite 2004's slight uptick) are all trending down.

Now, anything can happen by Election Day, and probably will. The stalwarts in the White House and the Republican party will retrench, lick their wounds and rally what's left of the troops to the cause. Loyal apparatchiks like Ed Rogers, identified on several talk shows as a Republican strategist. Ever the quote machine, Rogers (speaking in January about the fallout from another bad flood tide, the one on the Gulf Coast last year) has long condemned Beltway thinking as too reactive to the individual moment. Rogers raps old-line Foggy Bottom thought as "bad gets worse ... every mistake becomes a metaphor."

But the administration's current woes aren't a matter of bad getting worse. They're a matter of failing to forthrightly address what makes a situation bad in the first place, and correcting it -- a course of action the administration has been challenged with for some time.

Note to Ed Rogers: Some mistakes deserve to be metaphors. They perfectly explain the broader dimensions of a situation, a policy, an administration. They clearly point to the pattern behind a series of seemingly random behaviors. The White House's mistakes of late -- from the dismal official reaction to Hurricane Katrina to the deepening sectarian quagmire in Iraq -- can't be anything but a metaphor for an administration paying, at every turn, for its insistence on its own version of reality.

Monday, June 5, 2006

Apocalypse Tuesday?

If you haven't done it already, get your bets down now, by midnight, in fact, on the likelihood of the end of the world as we know it arriving tomorrow. Because this Tuesday, June 6, the 157th day of the year, the world celebrates that calendrical serendipity that comes along once every one hundred years:

Tuesday is June 6, 2006. In the modern shorthand, that's 6/6/06. You know 'em, you love 'em, those Rorschach numbers with evil attached -- or not, depending on your belief system and your fear of the unknown. You might wonder where this preoccupation came from. You can really blame the Bible for it -- in particular that old favorite, the Book of Revelation.

Specifically Revelation 13:18: “This calls for wisdom: let him who has understanding reckon the number of the beast, for it is a human number, its number is six hundred and sixty-six.”

For some it's not an occasion for fear. “Many people avoid the number; they’re afraid of it almost and there’s absolutely no reason to be afraid of it,” said the Rev. Felix Just, a professor of theology at the University of San Francisco. “It is not a prediction of future events. It is not supposed to be taken as a timetable for when the world is going to end,” Just told the Associated Press.

For others, of course, it's all about marketing. Consider some of the events set to happen tomorrow: A remake of the 70s horror classic "The Omen," starring Julia Stiles, Liev Schrieber and Pete Postlethwaite, opens across America, the object of an ad campaign that's been among us for weeks now ("Heed the Omen 6 + 6 + 6").

There's the release of the new "Left Behind" book by the Rev. Tim LaHaye, co-author of a wildly successful series of books with an apocalyptic theme. In case you don't come to the point on your own, LaHaye's "Left Behind" Web site promotes the new book, “The Rapture.” with a tag line he didn't need an ad agency to come up with: “06.06.06 Will You Be Ready?”

Rock and roll metallurgists Slayer are resurfacing with their new Unholy Alliance tour starting June 6. Deicide, a rock band out of Florida, releases a new album, "The Stench of Redemption," on June 6.

And lending weight to the idea that June 6 is indeed the devil's workshop, tomorrow conservative apologist, writer and right-wing attack mutt Ann Coulter releases "Godless," her new excoriation of what she calls "the church of liberalism," and justifies the presence of her vacuous grinning face on TV talk shows for another year or two.

Clearly, there are demons among us -- right along with fools, opportunists and movie publicists. Somewhere along the way of our being fascinated with 06/06/06, we overlooked another June 6, a date as rare as the one we dread/dream of tomorrow, a date that confirms the existence of angels.

The shorthand is 6/6/44, but it always sounds better when you say it all: June 6, 1944.

In a world without Web sites, metal bands, mushwit conservative mouthpieces and a lot less movie promotion than today, angels from many nations stormed a beach in a distant country and fought an army managed by devils, at horrific cost.

And we are now and forever the beneficiaries of that titanic struggle.

That's why we needn't fear the triple-six experience: Our world has already seen the manifestation of hell on earth. After D-Day, folks ... how bad can Ann Coulter possibly be?
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