The Katie Crescendo is building. Last week, the Wall Street Journal, not exactly the fashionistas’ newspaper of record, analyzed the new look Couric will have on The CBS Evening News. Gone are her morning-TV brights in the promos and official photo for her anchor role; she’s now in an elegant black suit and pearls. Channeling In Touch, WSJ even got fashion consultants to critique the look of other media personalities such as Paula Zahn, Charles Gibson, and the recently departed Elizabeth Vargas. Not exactly a typical Wall Street Journal story but — give the people the news they want! — it was their most e-mailed feature of the week.
This past Sunday, Katie was also the cover story in Parade, the Sunday supplement that goes into 340 weekend newspapers and has, it claims, 75 million readers. On that cover, Katie was dressed carefully but more casually — in blue jeans and a shirt. The cover blurb proclaimed, “The popular newswoman as you’ve never seen her.” Wrong. The interview was almost interchangeable with the many gushing Katie interviews that have been a women’s-glossy staple for the past decade.
It was written by Jacquelyn Mitchard, who wrote Oprah Winfrey’s very first book-club selection, and was every bit as treacly as the syrup on Sunday-morning blueberry pancakes. The interview was conducted in Katie’s East Side apartment and Mitchard describes Katie as “a classy, approachable neighbor.” (One of the decidedly underwhelmed comments about the piece on Parade’s website declares: “Katy impresses me as being an ‘approachable neighbor,’ only if you happen to be of the far-left persuasion.”)
Both Mitchard and Katie were young widows, and Couric teared up a few times during their long, intimate heart-to-heart talk. At one point Katie chides, “Now look. You made me cry,” Mitchard writes, “The tears spill over, and in the same instant — her face scrubbed of makeup and her hair pulled back into a ponytail — she looks every day of her 49 years and yet also girlish, the camper in the next bunk, bare feet curled under those slim, strong gams in plain, navy shorts. Finally, she shrugs, “But this is the life we’ve been given, so what can you do?”
Katie had time to pour out her heart to Mitchard — she shared, for example, that she “would love to be married or in a really solid relationship…but he just hasn’t materialized. ” She chatted about her daughters, and wondered aloud about marrying a younger man. In contrast, she has given a lot shorter shrift to most other reporters when they tended to get personal. She continues though to discount as unimportant the question of how she will dress on the nightly news, though she didn’t mind talking about plastic surgery with Mitchard. She swears she hasn’t had it.
Continuing her over-coverage, on Monday Couric held a 40-minute conference call with a dozen local reporters from news organizations throughout the country. She also met in individual interviews with a few big outlets, including USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post. One reporter who participated in her “media day” relayed: “It certainly was a controlled situation, more like you would see for a celebrity than a journalist.” Couric’s explanation: “I want to accommodate you [the media] but I also have to focus on the work and the new ideas that are percolating at CBS…. I don’t consider myself media royalty. I consider myself a very busy person.”
In truth, Couric is media royalty and a superstar and she is being handled, and handling herself, exactly that way. A recent Gallup poll reported that she enters the news-anchor race better known than her competitors and with higher favorable ratings. But her unfavorables are higher too. And she is most popular among Democrats. (Diane Sawyer, by the way, was the best known and had the highest favorables of any news personality.)
In the next weeks, Katie is shrewd enough to know she doesn’t needs to play, to the media and the TV critics who are ready, to give her a tough time but to her primarily female fan base as she did in that Parade interview. For a moment with Mitchard, Katie even played that old perennial, the “woman-as-victim” card. Mitchard writes, “Most of the criticism rolls off her back, though she wonders what yearnings in others’ hearts prompts such vitriol… ‘Maybe it’s my size. Maybe it’s my looks. Maybe it’s my gender. Maybe it’s just…’ She doesn’t use the word ‘jealousy’ but it hangs unspoken in the air.” The woman is a pro!
Charlie, Brian, how are you going to cope with that? Diane to the rescue!