"I'm Not an Idiot, You Know?"
Katie Couric talks about the future of the network newscast. (Hint: It's not on TV.)
Katie Couric is sitting in her all-white office, deep in the CBS News building in midtown Manhattan. The evening-news show she anchors has scored third place in the ratings almost continuously since she took over the top spot in 2006. But she has experienced something of a bounce since her series of interviews with Sarah Palin, which left the candidate squirming like an Alaskan sockeye caught in a net. Condé Nast Portfolio talked with Couric about feminism, Hillary, and the future of TV news.
A lot of people complained about sexism in the coverage of this election. Did you see it? I do think there is still sexism in the coverage. We're still in a place in our society where sexism is more palatable than racism. It's not as repugnant to people. There is still a mentality that you can make jokes about how someone's hot or a babe, and about gender roles, in a way that is completely taboo vis-a-vis race.
The former real estate mogul discusses his approach to newspapers.
Why do you think so many people had a negative reaction to Hillary Clinton? She's ambitious. And I think there are still qualities that when women exhibit them are less acceptable than when men naturally exhibit them-like ambition.
Have you suffered from similar problems with your press coverage? I think there might be some of that. It might be because of my background-that I did a morning show and that people didn't necessarily think I was a serious person. You know, I am sort of outgoing and friendly, and I think some people think that is incongruous with being serious and intelligent. So I think there may be all sorts of reasons, and that a lot of it is conditioned and behavioral.
You asked Sarah Palin if she thought of herself as a feminist. Do you consider yourself one? Oh yeah. I am. I am. I feel very strongly that women should have equal opportunity. I believe strongly in civil rights. I don't want to get into too much else.
You have said in the past that perhaps the viewing public wasn't ready to get its nightly news from
a woman. Is that changing? Sometimes I think maybe it was because I had come from the Today show, too, you know? Maybe Andrea Mitchell wouldn't have as much of a challenging transition. Because I came from a show where I kind of did everything. I mean, I flew across Rockefeller Plaza as Peter Pan one year. And suddenly I'm in an evening newscast. I think people were a little bit like, "Well, what happened to her? She used to be full of life, and now she's very stern and serious." Because I'm a very spontaneous person, and I do have a lot of personality. Does that sound conceited?
No, it's true. Has CBS supported all of the work you've been doing on the Web? I always wanted to have a strong internet presence, and I really pushed to have a webcast. I think CBS needs to be more aggressive, quite frankly, in putting its product on the Web and having a greater Web presence. Plus I thought the sensibility on the internet and the whole vibe-which makes me sound like I'm about 80-of the internet is so different, and is so much more authentic and natural and real and raw, that it would give me an opportunity to not feel as if I had to be so buttoned up.
Your YouTube channel is a little out there. Well, sometimes I think I get a little too weird. 'Cause, I mean, we would wing it 100 percent, pretty much. And so obviously it's just loopier and more relaxed. We can make jokes. I can say to Hillary, "Why do you have a nutcracker and Sarah Palin has an action figure?" Which is probably not something I would ask her if I were doing a network-news special.
Why? Because my bosses would probably choke.
The former real estate mogul discusses his approach to newspapers.
Network-news shows are seeing their ratings wither away. Are you disappointed about the format's decreasing influence? Clearly I knew this was a declining genre when I came here, because I'm not an idiot, you know? I knew that network news was declining, and evening newscasts in particular.
But they really play an important role, and I thought that if I could have the opportunity to somehow revitalize it in some small way, it would be a noble endeavor. I have to believe that there is a place for quality and experience. Because many of these outlets are not necessarily legitimate news sources, whether it's blogs or people who are spouting their opinions about this, that, and the other thing. And there should be, I think, outlets for accuracy and credibility and experience and evenhandedness. But I don't know. What will ultimately be considered legitimate news may change in the future.
There was talk a while back that suggested you were going to leave the CBS Evening News before your contract was up. All those stories were really blown out of proportion.
Meaning they were not accurate? No, they weren't.
You're really smiling, though. Because it was a bit of a nightmare.
I need a straight answer. Like any person, I want to make sure people are happy with the job I'm doing, and there are ongoing conversations about whether we are doing the right kind of show. There was a feeling a while ago that it was a fairly confining format for me, so we've had discussions about that. But I think during the election cycle we really broke out in an important way, and our coverage was certainly praised, so I think we-"we" meaning the Evening News folks-are feeling very great about the product. Those stories were so twisted and taken out of context. That's all I want to say about it.
What if Larry King left CNN and they begged you to take his seat? You know what? I've always had this philosophy in my life that I don't try to think about what's around the corner.
What is it like being a single mom? I have to say, sometimes it's hard. I have a great live-in nanny, who is getting married in September and moving to England. And she's been a huge force in our lives. Listen, it's not easy-as any single parent will tell you-but when you have means, it's a lot easier. But it's challenging, and I'm as guilt-ridden as any working mom is. I just try to do the best I can, you know? I've run up to many a volleyball game at my daughter's high school at 4 in the afternoon, stayed for half an hour, cheered, and run back and done the newscast. And it's really hard when I can't. So sometimes I wonder if my kids are going to put my face on a milk carton. But then we become reacquainted again. As you can see, my guilt is oozing out of every pore.
Last question: Which newspapers and magazines do you read? Anything and everything. I'm kidding, don't use that. That's what Sarah Palin said.VisitÂ Portfolio.comÂ for the latest business news and opinion, executive profiles and careers.Â Portfolio.com© 2007 Condé Nast Inc. All rights reserved.