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Politician-Turned-Anchor Makes Inauspicious Debut

As a member of Congress, Susan Molinari had no trouble standing out from the pack. Delivering the keynote address at the Republican National Convention, she projected an image Bob Dole couldn’t: perky, blond and female.

But those qualities aren’t so hard to find in television, and as the co-anchor of the new “CBS News Saturday Morning,” Molinari seems like a promising, slightly stiff wannabe with a Katie Couric haircut.

Couric doesn’t have to worry, and all those people who fretted that Molinari’s politics would pollute the news can relax for the moment, too. News is too hard to find on this unimaginative clone of “Today,” in which headlines every half-hour are springboards for fluffy health and consumer features.

Of course, Molinari is not just another wannabe, and the program’s debut reflected that. She did not read the news (though she might in the future). Her co-anchor, experienced CBS reporter Russ Mitchell, did.

When he handed Molinari two opportunities to bring her political expertise to bear, she flubbed the most important one.

After Mitchell reported on Sen. Jesse Helms’ stern opposition to William Weld’s nomination as ambassador to Mexico, he asked his co-anchor whether President Clinton could do anything to save the nomination. The question was intended to let Molinari display her insider’s knowledge of political wrangling and to show she could be objective. (Considering the fuzzy party lines in the Weld case, how hard was that?)

Her banal answer could have come from any marginally informed person: “It’s probably not going to happen for William Weld, but he left being governor of Massachusetts, and he didn’t do it to go quietly into the dark night, so stay tuned.”

She seemed at ease with chitchat, and when predicting, “Showers are going to be moving into the northwest.” She was most energetic when responding to Mitchell’s other political question, arguing that the Army should allow women in the infantry and artillery.

On paper, Molinari’s role as anchor is different from that of commentators like ABC’s George Stephanopoulos and CBS’s Bill Bradley. But her move into television, like theirs, has been greeted with the belief that a return to politics is inevitable, with a higher profile and a healthier bank account.

It clearly would make most sense to use her as a commentator.

A television star was not born. But she didn’t quit Congress to go quietly into a morning news ghetto.

Tags: Commentary