Have to get something off my chest.
If, like me, you watched the CBS Evening News recently, you may have witnessed Katie Couric, the anchor, hammering Ron Gettelfinger in a one-on-one interview about the fate of the U.S. auto industry.
Gettelfinger, once a chassis line repairman at a Ford plant in Louisville and now the president of the United Auto Workers Union (which has a million-plus members), got grilled (and then some) by Couric.
Couric intimated, from the tone of her questioning, that because the UAW hadn't made sufficient concessions, the U.S. Senate initially rejected a $14 billion bailout package for the Big Three (GM, Ford and Chrysler) automakers.
Here's an excerpt from that interview:
Couric (with a scowl): The perception, Mr. Gettelfinger, is that this bailout bill fell apart because your union would rather see the auto companies go under than take a pay cut. True or false?
Gettelfinger: That's totally false, Katie.
Couric (unrelenting): UAW members average 42 paid days off a year, including five weeks of vacation and 17 holidays. Do you think, Mr. Gettelfinger, that this may seem excessive in light of current economic conditions and the condition of the U.S. auto industry right now?
Gettelfinger responded, saying he'd like to compare that amount of time off to what the Congress of the United States gets, but he respectfully declined to go there. He went on to say that UAW members had already made tremendous sacrifices, and they would be willing to sacrifice more -- if only given the opportunity in continued talks with the federal government.
A dark scenario
He also cautioned Couric to keep in mind that if the U.S. auto industry goes bankrupt, it will quickly dissolve, meaning the Big Three will no longer exist. That would lead to the dark scenario of hundreds of thousands of additional Americans losing their jobs.
OK, we've heard all this again and again in the news -- point being that if the U.S. auto industry collapses, we'll go from deepening recession to worsening depression, the likes of which we haven't seen since the era of FDR.
What we haven't been attuned to is the idea of an obscenely well paid media celebrity (Couric) harping about "sacrifice" to a former auto factory repair man.
The irony of the network anchor bearing down on Gettelfinger about economic sacrifice is that Couric gets paid $15 million a year. Her predecessors at CBS, Dan Rather and Walter Cronkite (both with far more journalism experience), earned much less.
If Couric does 260 broadcasts a year, that works out to $50,000 per half hour news show. (Actually, subtracting the commercials, Couric is only on the air for about 20 minutes each weekday night, and I've noticed on numerous weekday nights she's got a substitute anchor.)
All this hasn't gone unnoticed in the blogosphere:
"No question (K)ronkite is getting a stomach ache, and (Edward R.) Morrow is turning," griped one Couric critic.
Another wrote (and it's posted to CBS News' credit, on CBSnews.com): "I did not appreciate Katie Couric's look of disgust while interviewing Mr. Gettelfinger, or the accusations that the UAW is the reason the automakers are in trouble ... Katie, if the autoworkers are so overpaid, would you work for an equivalent wage?"
I doubt Katie Couric, who took over the CBS News anchor chair in September 2006, is sacrificing as much as those UAW members.
Let's see -- wonder if I can get a sub-professor for me during those nine furlough days next semester?
This weekly column features opposing views from readers. These opinions are contrary to those expressed on this page or which otherwise take issue with something that appears in The Herald. All commentaries submitted become the property of The Herald and may be republished in any format.
Larry Timbs is an associate professor in the Department of Mass Communication at Winthrop University.