Until she was anointed America’s first solo female network news anchor (how’s that for a string of qualifiers), Katie Couric was mostly known for her freakish 10,000 watt smile and hosting cooking sessions on the Today show. CBS executives changed all that when they chose her to replace the disgraced Dan Rather. In hindsight, that wasn’t such a good move, not because a woman is incapable of filling Dan’s wingtips, but because Couric is a bad fit for the job. The result? CBS currently dwells in the dank basement of TV news ratings – an appropriate punishment for the “crime”.
Earlier this week, Katie interviewed John and Elizabeth Edwards about Liz’s reconstituted cancer. By most accounts, America overwhelmingly backs the Edwardses‘ decision to keep running, so the interview forecast called for a light-weight interview designed to trade on the Edwardses‘ courageous decision. Instead, things went awry and instantly, sweet little Katie became known as a snarling tiger of an interviewer with the morals of Matt Drudge.
“Some People Say…”
Smilin‘ Kate made the mistake of questioning the Edwardses‘ judgment to continue their White House run, frequently beginning questions with, “some people say…”. Detractors lit up like a Christmas tree (no offense to those who are differently religioned) and accused Katie of moral hypocrisy, especially since she hadn’t quit her job during her late husband’s terminal fight against cancer.
The detractors’ central argument seemed to be that Katie’s questions were out of bounds and needlessly invasive to the Edwardses‘ privacy and scruples. To them, “some people say…” was code for, “you contemptible publicity hounds…”. To many talking heads, Couric’s use of the vague “some people…” was a cop out that imposed her own moral criteria.
One could reasonably argue the questions were poorly phrased. One could also reasonably argue there may have been too many of them. One could even argue that using the vague “some people” attribution was not as proper as citing actual names. But, none of those shortcomings make the questions inappropriate.
Reporters Ask, You Decide
Reporters ask questions about events of interest. Sometimes the questions are not pretty or are invasive, but those in the public eye voluntarily put themselves in a different category than Joe Schmo – rightly or wrongly. When a reporter asks a question, it’s a proxy for Joe Schmo, who doesn’t have the opportunity to ask for himself. Clearly, there’s interest in this case – as evidenced by the Edwardses‘ calling a press conference to announce it – and also clearly, “some people” are asking if it was the right decision, even if only privately.
“Most people” supported the Edwardses‘ decision. They saw it as courageous and didn’t take kindly to questions they perceived as antagonistic. In fact, that’s a bit of a double standard. In this case, most people applauded the Edwardses‘, but what about the questions the Big Dick routinely fields about his serious bouts with heart disease. That behavior is acceptable because Cheney has a generally reviled face, unlike the sympathetic one of Elizabeth Edwards. People don’t mind joking about Dick’s health because he’s – the charitable word here – “unsympathetic” in general. The diseases both carry a death sentence eventually, both Edwardses and Cheney are integral players in public life, and both have to deal with the trauma on the public and private levels. Both also had an opportunity to reinforce their courage or shoot themselves in the foot with it. The Edwardses truthfully seem better at it just as Dick seems to suck at it.
Rubbed the Wrong Way
Katie’s questions weren’t out of bounds, they rubbed people the wrong way. The proof lies in the classy approach the Edwardses took when the dustup unfolded. They thanked Couric for the opportunity to get their story out, not only keep John’s bid on track, but also to allow some of that sympathy to rub off on the millions of other Joe and Josephine Schmos who battle cancer anonymously. The Edwardses are courageous to battle towards the White House for dozens of perfectly valid reasons and a few questions from an unskilled interviewer won’t change that. They embrace the hand life deals them – both the good and the bad – and cope with it in the way their public and private lives require. Katie didn’t take one shred of that dignity away. She asked legitimate questions and the Edwardses answered them.
And, that is how it should be.