What do Mel Gibson, Angelina Jolie, the cast of "Sex And The City," Anna Nicole Smith, and Emma Watson have in common? You guessed it: They all made appearances on the "Evening News" last week. Gibson and Smith showed up in the supplements stories, Watson in a piece on "girlfights," and Jolie and the SATC women in a piece about the rise in unmarried women.
There are a couple of ways to look at these celebrity appearances. The uncharitable might simply chalk them up to a ratings grab – you flash Angelina Jolie onscreen and your viewers presumably aren't going to change the channel. But the celebrities can also serve a contextual purpose. The shot of the SATC women was a quick reminder of cultural representations of single women, for example, even if it also might have been a way to keep eyes glued to the screen. And Gibson did have something to do with the supplements legislation that was being discussed -- he was featured in a 1993 ad from the dietary supplement industry urging consumers to write Congress. At the same time, a line like this is pretty hard to swallow: "Think of Angelina, living with Brad and the kids without a ring." Can you make an argument that the situation "Angelina" now finds herself in is relevant enough for inclusion in a story about single women? You can try. But it's a hell of a stretch.
As for the stories themselves, we've discussed the supplements pieces, so let's look at the others. CJR's Gal Beckerman did a piece on the single women story, which noted that more women in America are now unmarried than married. The "Evening News" piece, like the New York Times story on the same subject, focused largely on relatively affluent white women. Beckerman, noting that "many of these women are raising children alone and being dragged deeper into poverty because of their unmarried status," wrote that CBS "mindlessly followed" the Times in acting as if "being free from marriage is an unequivocally positive thing."
The girlfights story, meanwhile, struck this viewer primarily as an excuse to run grainy Internet video of teenage girls fighting. At the top of the show we got this tease from anchor Katie Couric, while the video played onscreen: "And can you believe it? Girls beating up girls, and posting the video on the Internet." And then we saw another tease before the break, with the video again. And then another. And then the story itself, with the video playing for an extended period. The subject wasn't utterly without merit – Couric pointed out that while assaults by teenage boys are down, assaults by teenage girls are up – but there was something unseemly about the decision to run the video over and over.
But enough of the negative – let's look at some of last week's bright spots. Lara Logan's Monday story about the American military rescuing a trapped doctor, for example, was a compelling "good news from Iraq" story that brought us into the war in a way that more wide-ranging reports cannot. And her Tuesday
The Focus On The Brain stories were also strong, particularly the one on blind people using their tongues in order to see. The "American Heroes" series, which reminds us of the individuality and heroism of fallen soldiers in Iraq, made a welcome return, and Friday's extended installment on civilian Andrea Parhamovich was particularly touching. CBS News National Security Correspondent David Martin, one of the best in the business, did his usual high-quality work. (If you missed Martin's Jan. 9 story about Brig. General James Barclay and his son, incidentally, you missed a hell of a story.)
There's more to touch on – another gas prices story? European weather? – but we'll leave it at that for now. Tune in next week for more "Evening News" report, and feel free to let us know what you think of the show and this feature in comments.