Media critics have written exhaustively about Couric's pitiful ratings since she took over as evening-news anchor last Sept. 5. (Is it my imagination, or doesn't it feel like Couric has had the job for years, not months?)
Not long ago, one CBS executive told me that I was "obsessed" with the story. (For the record, I'm not, and laughed off the foolish characterization.) Couric has weathered an onslaught from bloggers and columnists -- and just wait till New York magazine weighs in.
But we journalists are on the outside looking in. All we can do is count on sources for information and then offer thoughtful analysis. I want Auletta to press Moonves so he'll tell us why he made some miscalculations, what went wrong and how he hopes to fix the problem.
I hope Auletta won't let him spin, either. Then again, Moonves doesn't have much ammunition for spinning.
As TVNewser.com reported a few days ago: "Another week, another new low for the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric. Last week, the Evening News fell to 5,495,000 average total viewers -- a decline of 464,000 viewers from the week before, and the broadcast's lowest delivery in at least 20 years."
Moonves presents a fascinating conundrum. He has been television's finest prime-time programmer, putting his stamp on such CBS successes as the "CSI" series and "Survivor."
But he hasn't worked his Midas touch at CBS News. It could be argued that under Moonves, CBS has been just as unsuccessful in the news division as it has excelled in prime-time.
Moonves will have a lot of ground to cover. He can begin by talking about the wooing of Couric in early 2006.
Knowing she would be stepping into a third-place newscast and carrying the burden as the first solo female evening-news anchor, Couric had to have some reservations about taking on such a daunting role.
Moonves also can reflect on how CBS hyped Couric, ranging from silly stunts like plastering her mug on city buses in New York to subjecting her (and the rest of us) to a gimmicky listening tour months before she did her first evening-news broadcast.
Oh, and don't forget the decision to release a computer-enhanced photo of Couric, designed to make her look more photogenic, and the plagiarism scandal surrounding the contents of her blog.
Then there is the Don Imus flap, which continues to make the occasional headline. Moonves shoved Imus out after the shock jock made racially insensitive comments about the Rutgers women's basketball team in April. According to media reports, Imus could stand to collect tens of millions of dollars in a wrongful termination lawsuit.
Even if Couric's ratings were soaring and Imus hadn't messed up, Moonves would have to explain that old CBS stand-by, the long-suffering "Early Show." It has trailed rivals "Today" and "Good Morning America" for years.
Auletta, a respected media writer, will hold a breakfast-hour conversation with Moonves at the W Hotel in New York with dozens of industry professionals in attendance. It's the latest installment in the series of Newhouse School-sponsored interviews with media newsmakers.
Auletta always asks probing questions, but Moonves can be disarming. It sounds like a fair fight. Not that Auletta needs any help, but this is what I'd ask Moonves:
Why has CBS done so well in entertainment and so poorly in news?
What can you do to improve the evening-news show?
What specifically has gone wrong with Katie Couric's "CBS Evening News?"
Is her job safe -- and for how long? Any thoughts of asking her to move, for instance, to "ThEarly Show?"
What would have to happen for you to consider replacing Couric?
If Couric-related debacles like the infamous Photoshopping snafu and the plagiarism scandal weren't her fault, how much responsibility should we assign to you, CBS news chief Sean McManus and the corporation?
Considering the higher ratings consistently enjoyed by Charles Gibson and Brian Williams, Couric's two old-school counterparts, do you now regret thinking that CBS needed to blow up the traditional evening-news format?
What has surprised you about this story? For instance, did you expect America to react so indifferently or the media to give her such a hard time?
Why can't CBS do better against "Today" and "Good Morning America?"
Do you have any regrets about dismissing Don Imus?
MEDIA WEB QUESTION OF THE DAY: How did CBS mess up with Katie Couric?
FRIDAY STORY OF THE WEEK: "Murdoch's Role as Proprietor,Journalist and Plans for Dow Jones" by Steve Stecklow and Martin Peers (Wall Street Journal, June 6).
THE READERS RESPOND to my column about ABC News' improbable rise in the ratings: "ABC reports news. ... When I come home at night, I want news, not some editor's opinion. ... Plus, the two anchors on CBS and NBC are downright obnoxious. Katie Couric isn't anything but a whining, two-faced wimp, and Brian Williams is worse than Katie Couric." Buzz Patterson
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By Jon Friedman