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HARRY SMITH HEADS FOR HARD NEWS, LEAVES LAUER Half a dozen years or so ago, before Tyndall Report converted to the online videostream database you see now, I spent altogether too much time watching the broadcast networks' morning programs.

Back then, NBC's Today and ABC's Good Morning America split hard-news chores between their male and female anchors--Katie Couric and Matt Lauer; Charles Gibson and Diane Sawyer. On CBS, Early Show's Harry Smith did almost all the heavy lifting (his female co-anchors Hannah Storm, Rene Syler and Julie Chen tended to confine themselves to less consequential fare).

Since then, three of those anchors have made the same migration as Tyndall Report, saying goodbye to the antisocial hours and journalistic pabulum of the morning shift. First Gibson, and then Sawyer, assumed the anchor chair at ABC World News. Couric took her seat at CBS Evening News.

Now Smith makes it four, also leaving Early for harder news pastures. He will be the permanent substitute for Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation and for Charles Osgood on Sunday Morning and Katie Couric on Evening News.

The default assumption is that Smith was fired: "pushed out of his job," as Howard Kurtz put it at The Daily Beast; "removal" was the word used by The New York Times' Carter & Stelter at Media Decoder. I disagree. The fact that all of these major morning anchors used their shows as a stepping stone on their way to a genuine hard news position sends the message about where their journalistic hearts were truly.

The morning shows, profit centers for the networks' news divisions, are not centers of journalistic excellence. This is the rant that I wrote for CBS' short-lived Public Eye blog in 2006 when I decided that, for the sake of my own mental health, I could no longer monitor morning content.

These programs turn out to be a toxic mixture of condescension and trivia, hucksterism and self-help propaganda. Anchoring them must seem like some sadistic initiation rite to which aspiring network anchors are subjected--to prove loyalty to the division and to earn it sufficient profits, all with extremely anti-social work hours--before being liberated to cover proper news properly. Preceding Gibson, Sawyer and Couric, Tom Brokaw and Barbara Walters underwent the same torment; George Stephanopoulos is going through that ordeal right now.

Harry Smith must view the prospect of one day taking over Schieffer's or Couric's anchor chair as a deliverance not a demotion.

While I demean the timeslot, I certainly do not demean the strictness of the ordeal of working there as a test in anchoring mettle. Being a morning anchor requires unparalleled skills in live television across the widest of palettes: from hard news to human interest to flirting with celebrities to news-you-can-use--all with a sense of tone and timing to yuk-it-up and make a fool of oneself with the rest of the studio team.

At Newsday, Verne Gay wittily tweets about how difficult it is to get things right in the morning. CBS' efforts have been "built on Indian burial ground," he jokes. Gay invokes the names of past CBS failures to attract ratings in that timeslot: Bryant Gumbel, Phyllis George, Mariette Hartley, Bob Saget, Mark McEwen. Kurtz at the Beast chips in with Maria Shriver, Sally Quinn, Kathleen Sullivan, Paula Zahn, Jane Clayson. He adds Forrest Sawyer but omits Diane. He recalls Schieffer but skips Bill Kurtis.

So it is worth pointing to Matt Lauer at Today. Of the five major anchors I mentioned, Lauer alone has not moved from mornings to hard news. And he shows no inclination to do so. When Brian Williams took over as anchor of NBC Nightly News or when David Gregory took the chair at Meet the Press, no one saw a slight against Lauer, or saw his ambitions towards journalistic integrity being stymied.

Lauer seems completely comfortable in his own skin in the morning slots. It comes as no surprise that he was the sole anchor I singled out for praise in my 2006 rant. And it should come as no surprise that his Today remains consistently the most popular program in that timeslot.

When one thinks of the longstanding stars of morning television, one thinks of those who did not see at as a purgatory to live through on their way to a proper news job. Think of Lauer and David Hartman and Jane Pauley. When Couric was at Today she seemed to me to belong in that same galaxy. Look how her stock has fallen by taking the hard news lure.