BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — If I were a betting man, I would have lost money when the folks from CBS News appeared (via satellite) in front of members of the Television Critics Association.

I guessed that it would be the third question before Katie Couric's job security came up. My TV critic pals guessed somewhere between second and sixth.

We were all wrong. The first question out of a critic's mouth essentially boiled down to, "So, Katie, are you about to get fired?"

It was phrased more nicely than that: "Do you ever marvel at the amount of attention you get, the speculation, and could you help us clear up the speculation? I mean, what are your thoughts about your job these days?"

"Well ... glad you got right to that," Couric responded.

Even someone as cynical and negative as yours truly was a little surprised how quickly that came up.

Couric pointed out, rightfully, that the intensity of the media speculation about her job future has "died down considerably." Perhaps because news of her imminent dethroning from the "CBS Evening News" anchor chair didn't come to pass.

But given that the show lags in third place in the nightly news competition, there's still speculation that Couric will exit CBS after the presidential inauguration in January.

CBS News president Sean McManus flatly denied any such reports.

"I can say, and I have said, that it's not true," he said.

And Couric echoed his comments, rebutting reports that she's unhappy at CBS and plans to leave the network.

"We have no plans to part company anytime soon," she said. "And there were a lot of speculative pieces that I think got, quite frankly, spun out of control. We always assess how the show is doing and what direction we want to go in.

"And so, clearly, when you work for an organization, you have ongoing discussions. But I'm very committed to the people here and very committed to the product, and so I can say that's not true, either."

Which sound a little more iffy than her flat denial that she's thinking of leaving. But McManus stated categorically that Couric leaving the network is "not a discussion at CBS, either corporately or at CBS News."

Couric rather gently chided all of us who write about it.

"I can't really control what media writers write," she said. "I think sometimes we live in a bit of an echo chamber that probably the people in your room and obviously the people here are more fascinated by things along these lines than anyone else in the real world.

"So it's befuddling to me, the amount of attention I have received."

And, to hear Couric tell it, she just keeps on keeping on as the speculation swirls around her.

"I spend every day really focused on doing the best job I can. ... That's really what I'm focused on and how I can serve the 5 million-plus viewers who watch the 'CBS Evening News' every night," she said.

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Call me cynical and I won't argue with you. It's absolutely true.

But part of the reason that I (and other TV critics) are cynical is that over the years we've heard all sorts of flat denials along the lines of this one ... and, shortly thereafter, what was denied was suddenly confirmed.

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He's my hero: Ranking up there with the odder questions asked of network news types was this one: "I'm wondering if you guys in any way look at 'The Daily Show' and Jon Stewart as some sort of inspirational competition."

"Yes, I'd like to go right on the record," said "Face the Nation" anchor Bob Schieffer. "Jon Stewart is my inspiration. I want to be Jon Stewart when I grow up."

How can you NOT love Bob Schieffer?

"I think Jon Stewart is terrific, and so is Stephen Colbert," said Schieffer. "I think they're doing a great job.

"I look on them as I do the editorial cartoonists on the editorial page of a newspaper. The editorial cartoonist is the one person on a newspaper that has the right to lie because they're dealing with parody. And that's basically what you're seeing with Jon Stewart and Colbert."

Schieffer did address the research indicating that many young viewers get a lot of their news from "The Daily Show."

"I don't think you'd get all the news you need to know if you only looked at the editorial page cartoons every day," he said. "However, I think Jon Stewart and Colbert do a really great job I love both of those broadcasts."

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