The ego of the anchors

After a network anchor was nearly killed in the Middle East, we still have the networks sending their talking heads there, in hopes they won’t be blown off. Why? All they do is stand and read the Teleprompter, the same as they do back in the studio. What do they add?

ABC’s Charlie Gibson was humble enough to say:

“Just because the guy who anchors flies in doesn’t mean he knows it better than the people who are on the ground,” said Gibson.

“If I come in, or Katie comes in or Brian comes in, does that necessarily increase how good the coverage is?” asked Gibson. “Does it necessarily mean it’s going to be better because you have an anchor there?”

I agree. So why does he go?

“I think probably it calls more attention to the story. But I’m very mindful of the fact that the people who regularly cover the beat know it best, and I don’t want to do anything in terms of anchor travel to preempt the prerogatives of those who really know the stories best.”

I think Gibson’s attitude about what the stars add or don’t add to coverage is exactly right. But I also think that the idea that sending an anchor alone brings more attention to a story is sadly egotistical and not just of Gibson but of the networks and the profession.

This is ego as journalism. It’s no different, at its heart, than my favorite hobby horse about journalistic oversupply: Sending 15,000 journalists to the political conventions just so you can have a byline. It says the story is important. It says we’re important. It’s ego.

After the attack on Bob Woodruf, there is, of course, another angle to this story: Networks putting anchors, their crews and their families at risk. I salute Katie Couric for saying straight out that she will not go to a war zone because she should not make her children orphans. Eat the Press disagrees, at first, saying this will affect her gravitas (they then have second thoughts).

Gravitas, my ass. They read Teleprompters. And they look silly doing it in safari gear.

: UPDATE: Well, so much for my praise of Couric. Page 6 at the NY Post says that Access Hollywood has corrected its Couric quotes.

: LATER: E-the-P’s Rachel Sklar emails to say that she wasn’t playing the gravitas card herself but was predicting what the gravitasmongers would do this with… if, in fact, Couric had really said it. Rachel and I agree about Couric’s family obligations and the need for good sense.