Katie Couric and Diane Sawyer Are No “Newsmommies”

Fri, September 18, 2009


diane-sawyerSomeone has actually coined the phrase “newsmommy.”  Yes, you heard me.  Newsmommy.

I thought we’d come a long way, baby, when Katie Couric was named to anchor the CBS Evening News.  So when ABC announced that Diane Sawyer would be taking the anchor chair at there, the former TV newscaster in me who always had to battle the ‘she can’t do that because she’s the girl’ argument, was excited.  Sawyer’s list of credentials is a mile long, including her gig at 60 Minutes.  I’ve never been a fan of  Sawyer’s manner of presentation, but there’s no doubt that she’s got the qualifications.  Yet, in spite of that, some have suggested that her years of experience aren’t enough and that Couric and Sawyer landed their gigs because they’re too mommy-like.

The critique is actually directed at the networks and not the anchors themselves.  But a conversation at the blog Feministing suggests that the networks are letting women down because Couric and Sawyer are too soft and maternal to be taken seriously. (FYI, Sawyer doesn’t have children).

I have no problem with people questioning whether news networks are choosing the best qualified people to sit behind the anchor desk.  And, of course, there are probably many good choices that could have been made for either network.  But do we really have to go down the road of wondering whether someone is in their job because they are “mommy-like?”

I guess I’m troubled by the whole newsmommy discussion because it serves no purpose other than to have women characterizing other women in a diminutive way that not-so-subtly suggests that we should act more like men to succeed.  While the criticism is ultimately about what kind of woman network and cable executives want to put behind a news desk, when we blithely toss about the “mommy” word, it’s just like a pat on the head that says, “Oh, isn’t she cute wanting to be a news anchor,” while ignoring their more than worthy credentials.

And I’m not the only one bothered by this.  Shannon at Undecided blog laments:

But really, aren’t we beyond all this? What’s with the use of the word “mommy” in that context–as if it’s a synonym for airhead or lightweight?

What will it take for us to stop judging each other and get on the same team? To stop reaching for the shards of shattered glass from those ceilings our sisters have worked so hard to crack and using them as weapons against each other, rather than sweeping them up, admiring the fact that we might be able to make it through a little easier, and getting on with our own lives and the ceilings we’ll inevitably face?

As Amanda Fortini pointed out in her column at Salon:

A 40-year veteran, Sawyer is no stranger to hard news; she has interviewed, among many other political and cultural figures, Saddam Hussein, Ahmadinejad, Antonin Scalia and every president (plus first wives Nancy and Hillary) since George H.W. Bush. The New York Times reported that when she interviewed Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley back in 1995, she prefaced her queries about their sex life with this slightly perturbed admission: ‘I didn’t spend my life as a serious journalist to ask these kinds of questions.’

Aside from being annoyed at yet another instance of someone creating a word that suggests that women who are mothers are somehow inherently less capable because we’re busy being all soft and nice (nine-year-old PunditGirl might have a word or two to say on that one!), it’s time to take a moment to admit that the good interview isn’t always about shouting or pounding your fists on the table.

As any good interviewer knows (whether it be in news or law!), effective questioning isn’t usually about jumping in for the kill — it’s about the set up.  It’s doing your homework,  taking the time to lay a foundation, to ask the seemingly innocuous and, perhaps silly, questions first, and then nicely, gently (no big, sudden movements), move in for the big questions.

These are skills Couric and Sawyer clearly have.  So I think it’s fair to ask — why aren’t we more focused on pointing out the professional achievements of these, and other women, especially someone as overly-qualified as Sawyer, rather than talking about whether a woman with maternal qualities (or not) should be the face of authority?  I’m hard-pressed to come up with a good answer.

And while we’re on the subject, I can’t help asking — who’s your “newsdaddy?”

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8 Responses to “Katie Couric and Diane Sawyer Are No “Newsmommies””

  1. Becky Says:

    I’m trying to figure out where the term “newsmommy” originated.

    To hear you tell it, network executives are all over the place calling Diane Sawyer a newsmommy. That’s not the case.

    So when you say, “Someone has actually coined the phrase ‘newsmommy,’” it looks to me that Ann at Feministing coined the phrase in 2006 when she wrote about Katie Couric.


  2. PunditMom Says:

    Actually, I didn’t mean for it to come across that executives are using the term — others are in connection with the executives decisions and, it seems to me, denigrating women in the process.

  3. Becky Says:

    Your point of contention seems to be the term newsmommy. And that came from Feministing.

    As for executive decisions, I don’t see where the decisions made about Couric and Sawyer were BASED on that they were perceived as “newsmommies.” I read the original article from 2006, “The Couric conundrum,” which quoted lots of experts (all women, I believe) with lots of opinions about why Couric was chosen. But no quote from anyone who actually made the decisions explaining what was considered during the process.

    So I guess I’m confused about who you’re saying has stepped over the line. Feministing for coining the term in 2006? Salon for using it in a headline now?

  4. PunditMom Says:

    I’m saying that the criticism by Feministing was directed at the new executives but there’s no excuse for terming a word like “newsmommies” especially by feminists. It does nothing other than to belittle accomplished women. Additional Feministing stories, Salon and more blogs are picking up on the term. It’s another one we don’t need in our vocabulary and we should nip it in the bud.

  5. Becky Says:

    Ah, I got it. I see what you’re saying then.

    By the way, I believe Ann at Feministing (in the 2006 post) misunderstood the original article about Couric, and she had a knee-jerk reaction … and the result was “newsmommy.”

  6. Daisy Says:

    Mommylike? I’ve never thought of Diane Sawyer as particularly motherly. The opposite, perhaps.
    By the way, if people can still call us “baby,” we haven’t come far enough.

  7. Blew argument in first sentence Says:

    Any woman that is successful in America is going to be criticized worse than any successful man. Like you said above, this nation is good at belittling accomplished women. This has been proven over and over again.

    Both Couric and Sawyer are being judged regardless if they are a mother or not. And as you mentioned Sawyer doesnt even have children.

    Both of the performances of these women will ALWAYS be looked at under a microscope. Regardless of Couric and Sawyers credentials Im afraid it will never be enough to FULLY prove to a network audience they are just as good if not better than male anchors/reporters.

    Also if your criticizing people for using the term “newsmommies” please stop yourself from addressing women as “baby”


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