Is Catherine Crier becoming a royal pain?

In the summer of 1990, Catherine Crier’s future at CNN didn’t look terribly rosy. The attractive former Texas judge, hired as an instant journalist in 1989, had been unable to bring any ratings voltage to the network’s evening news show, The World Today — a result of her inexperience and decided lack of rapport with coanchor Bernard Shaw. The rumor that Crier was out swept through CNN newsrooms in Atlanta and Washington. ”I’d been watching and monitoring very carefully,” says CNN president Tom Johnson. ”I decided to either move her out or move her up.”

He moved her up. With a year to go on her contract, Crier, 36, is now being granted full star treatment. In March she got her own show, Crier & Co., a highly promoted daily half-hour forum on current events. Although it hasn’t been officially announced, Crier will rejoin Shaw in January for the half-hour Inside Politics at 6 p.m. And since CNN’s negotiations with NBC anchor Mary Alice Williams have soured, Crier has landed a plum political assignment — coanchoring next year’s national political conventions with Shaw.

Shaw took the news with closed-lip stoicism. Others at CNN aren’t so reserved. Nurtured and cosseted like no one else in CNN’s 11-year, consciously antistar history, Crier has not been universally loved, and news of each of her latest coups has landed on CNN newsrooms like direct hits on Baghdad, radiating waves of hostility. ”We all had to sit here during the Clarence Thomas hearings,” says a CNN anchor, who asked not to be identified, ”while she was moving to a new house, and they let her go home. None of us would dream of saying, ‘Can I have the day off?”’ While Crier moved, other anchors had to fill in, pulling double shifts.

”When she’s in a good mood, she’s nice to everyone,” says another anchor. ”When she’s in a bad mood, she’s a terror. I’ve seen her tear one of those young floor directors up one side and down the other when there’s been a mistake.”

These aren’t isolated sentiments. ”The jealousy over Catherine at CNN is rampant, like termites in a barn,” says former CNN anchor Patrick Emory. CNN Washington correspondent John Holliman says, ”I heard from two CNN anchors today, and they wonder why Catherine is showing up in all these TV promos while people who are just as good if not better aren’t getting that treatment.”

Bad-mouthing hasn’t caught Crier off guard. ”I haven’t been confronted with anything unexpected,” she says. ”I can’t worry about that sort of thing. I’ve found that in everything you do, you need to focus on the job at hand.” The same note is sounded by CNN brass. ”When you are a woman and very, very beautiful and smart and nice,” says CNN vice president Gail Evans, ”there are a lot of people out there taking potshots.”

Other networks are said to be looking at Crier, which might be one reason CNN is giving her such royal treatment. But the juicy rumor that 60 Minutes is after Crier is amiably denied by the CBS show’s executive producer, Don Hewitt.

”She’s very pleasant to look at reading the news,” he says. ”But I have no idea if she can report her way out of a paper bag.”