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Couric Gives Detractors Swift Kick in the ‘Gravitas’

Receiving her Giants of Broadcasting award in Manhattan the afternoon of Oct. 1, CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric lamented that all the good quips had been taken by the previous recipients. But she still came up with a top-flight zinger as she said she believed “gravitas”—the characteristic she was routinely criticized for lacking when she shifted to the anchor desk three years ago—was “Latin for testicles.”

“It’s possible to be warm yet authoritative,” she said, “and intelligent yet accessible.”

Couric cited her on-air colonoscopy in 2000—and the resultant increase in procedures among the public nationwide—as “the most gratifying accomplishment” of her career, and defended the “much derided” mainstream media for upholding fairness and objectivity at a time when it’s often lacking among the punditry.

“Traditional old-fashioned journalism has never been so important,” she said.

Couric’s fellow 2009 inductees at the Giants of Broadcasting, awarded by the Library of American Broadcasting at the Grand Hyatt, are Bea Arthur, Ken Burns, Barbara Cochran, Ed McMahon, Dr. Woo Paik, Norm Pattiz and Chris Rohrs.

Cochran, the former longtime president of the RTNDA, used the spotlight to push for an easing of media restrictions in courtrooms. “It’s remarkable to me that, in 2009, the Supreme Court still refuses to open its doors to television cameras and microphones,” she said.

Rohrs, who wraps up a decade atop the Television Bureau of Advertising at the end of this year, said the future has never been brighter for television, despite the lumps it’s taken of late. “Television’s bond with the American consumer is not weakening—it’s strengthening,” he said. Rohrs said he was confident that the folks in the room—and in the industry—“will find smart new ways to monetize the extraordinary value of that consumer connection.”

Burns, whose The National Parks series is currently airing on PBS, told the story of a film he shot in college about the colonial-era living museum Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts. After he filmed a man dispersing seeds throughout a field with repeated flicks of his wrist, Burns asked the man what he was doing. The man said he was “broadcasting,” as the process was known in earlier times. Burns reminded the room that all broadcasters are involved in “taking an idea from one single place to many places.”