“There is no elegant way out for Katie.” That’s the last line of Ed Klein’s Katie: The Real Story. The unauthorized biography, which purports to be a “truthful, unflinching look at a remarkable woman,” certainly has enough in it to satisfy the many Katie-bashers who have been enjoying Couric’s current nose-dive in ratings as the anchor of TheCBS Evening News. No doubt others will dismiss the book as a fairly standard hatchet job that relies primarily on TV and gossip columns, clips, and critical quotes from scores of unnamed sources.
In fact, there is not much unexpected here including the portrait of the young Katie as wildly ambitious and manipulative when she was desperately trying to make her dream “of becoming the next Barbara Walters” come true. Though a bit surprising, Couric, who in her prime was always seen as a feminist icon, often relied on relationships with important men to help her in her climb. According to Klein, she had affairs with both a married CNN executive who saved her from being fired a couple of times, and a media spokesman for Metro Dade Police Department who tipped her off on big stories when she was a TV reporter in Miami.
At The Today Show, Katie’s success was primarily engineered by another man, her whiz-kid producer Jeff Zucker, the now president of NBC. The biggest splash in her early career, the serendipitous White House interview with president George H.W. Bush, was among those orchestrated by Zucker. While conducting a live TV tour of the White House with Barbara Bush, the President joined in, probably expecting a few moments of genial chit-chat. Instead “Couric grilled him for nineteen minutes on topics from tax policy to Iran-Contra…Bush seemed frazzled.” Katie’s reputation was thereby established as someone who could handle both morning-TV fluff and more substantive journalism. What was not known at the time was the important role Zucker played; he remained outside parked in a satellite truck in the White House driveway, shouting questions in her ear piece.
Klein also describes Katie’s testy relationships with her Today co-hosts Bryant Gumbel, whom she practically drove off the air, and Matt Lauer, whose air time she tried to cut into, and her jealousy of news reader Ann Curry, whose assignments she restricted. For a long time on-air on Today she was perkiness personified and her popularity grew while off-screen she was dressing down the staff and making enemies of many of her colleagues. Enemies who told Klein, for example, that employees at NBC were so cynical about her lack of compassion for her husband Jay Monahan, who was dying of colon cancer, that they started betting on how long it would take her to capitalize on his death. According to one NBC reporter, “some said 72 hours, others just 24 hours.”
In the book, Klein touches, but only lightly, on Couric’s well-documented liberal leanings; the Media Research Center, however, has cited over a thousand examples of her on-air expressions of bias. Among the highlights, she has called Ronald Reagan an “airhead,” lectured Charlton Heston on gun control and was always full of admiration for the leaders of the Million Mom March, and her very special favorite, Hillary Clinton. Klein claims that at the end of her years on the morning show, it was her increasingly diva-like behavior, her high- fashion clothes, heavy make-up and flashy stilettos, coupled with newspaper reports of her big-ticket salary, that made her less appealing to the women viewers who were once been her greatest fans. But the liberal point-of-view that she frequently shared, always with the underlying assumption that the women in the viewing audience would agree with her, also may have had a part in chipping at her Q ratings. They were even lower than Dan Rather’s.
What is interesting is the analysis of the reason for Katie’s morning TV success. According to Klein:
Andrew Tyndall, whose Tyndall Reports monitors television news said, “Being a morning anchor… requires wearing a multitude of hats. One a hard-news hat…a human-interest hat, a celebrity-interview hat and a household-feature hat. Nobody has been able to do four out of four in the morning but Katie.”
But this skill set has proved of little help in doing the job that she now has and wanted so much, the job her journalist father always told her was the best one in television “sitting in Walter Cronkite’s seat.”
Since her takeover of The CBS Evening News, Couric has suffered a disastrous year–and it isn’t getting any better. Les Moonves, the CEO of CBS who lured her to the network and masterminded the massive publicity campaign that preceded her first CBS broadcast, recently told a reporter he takes no responsibility for how her show has failed. Klein writes,
Katie [is now] damaged goods…At heart, Katie was not an anchor–sober, authoritative and wise. She had reached the height of television stardom by being what she had been in her father’s house: cute, funny and girlish. There was no way to reconcile her ambition with her personality.
Kind of makes you tear up, recalling the way Katie used to do during human-interest stories on Today. But, hey, it is hard to feel sorry for someone making $15 million a year, especially if you were on the other end of one of her self-absorbed tirades. Still, in one of the tabloids it was just reported that her Today replacement, Meredith Vieira, is thinking of leaving the show. Today’s ratings have dropped nine percent over to past year. So maybe Katie could go crawling back. That would be a really big story. But do you think Matt Lauer and all those unnamed NBC sources that dished and dished to Klein would really put up with Katie again, no matter how much it could spike the ratings? Stay tuned.