Team Couric Yawning at New Bio, News That Colleagues Think She's a 'Lightweight'

In the New York Post, gossip columnist Liz Smith previewed some of the charges in Ed Klein’s book on CBS anchor Katie Couric, due at the end of August. It seems the Katie camp is already trying to do damage control and insist that the scoops that are leaking out are not really scoops, they’re all yawners. (See what happens when you hire a Hillary publicist like Matthew Hiltzik? Your media strategy suddenly sounds exactly like Hillary’s.) The only scooplet that Smith thought had power: "‘But the majority of people at 60 Minutes, including the correspondents, dislike her intensely. They think she's a lightweight.’ Well, that probably hurts, but Katie has to ignore it."

Overall, Smith treated Klein’s book as an unfortunate wheelbarrow of "relentless attacks." She pleases him just enough by dishing on the book in advance, and yet still shows more sympathy for Couric, who is the higher-profile contact for a gossip columnist:

I've always liked author Klein, but haven't particularly approved of his books. I found his works on Jackie Kennedy Onassis and Hillary Clinton disturbing. So when he gave me a preview of some things he'll report about Katie next month, I decided to ask her for comments. She wouldn't agree to be interviewed by Ed Klein, but maybe she'll talk to me. Does she? Not exactly.

Klein has offered what he calls "Newsbreaks." (1) "Katie hired Matthew Hiltzik as her personal publicist back in the fall of 2005 while she was still under contract to NBC on the "Today" show and was secretly negotiating with CBS chief Leslie Moonves to become the first solo woman network anchor. She had made up her mind to jump ship a year before she actually did."

Katie's team says she hired the veteran p.r. guy Hiltzik in December 2006. (I don't really see anything sinister about her hiring Hiltzik or when she did it. As for secretly negotiating? This is how everybody behaves as TV contracts end. Stars always negotiate!)

(2) Klein says Hiltzik created a 15-page briefing book that laid out Katie's qualifications to be a news anchor. Hmm, the New York Observer told us about that on April 5, 2006. So if this is hot stuff, I'm surprised. Job hunting is job hunting, even for stars.

(3) Klein reports: "Katie was personally involved in every aspect of the 'CBS Evening News' makeover, from choosing the show's theme music to OKing segments of the broadcast including the one called 'Free Speech.' " (This was later junked.) Well, all TV news managing editors, which Katie is, are deeply involved in ideas for themselves and their shows. (Shades of Peter Jennings and Diane Sawyer!) Some things work; some don't. Katie's team says this "revelation" is nothing new and that James Horner had worked on what he calls "the biggest challenge of his career," writing a 10-second clip of music that would introduce Katie each night. "Katie and CBS wanted him to pour an ocean of imagery into a musical teacup."

Katie's team hopes we'll give their star a break, lay off of her personally and take a serious, hard look at her work; give her the opportunity to fine-tune her news show and let her new team, led by the dynamic (my adjective!) Rick Kaplan, do its work.

I asked Matthew Hiltzik to comment on Klein's assertion that he is the brains behind her campaign to place the blame for her ratings on her boss, Les Moonves. Klein says Moonves is mad at Katie for remarks about him in the New York magazine piece. Hiltzik just yawns at this. (I saw Mr. Moonves last week but didn't bother to ask him about this. He and Katie both aver publicly that nobody is mad at anybody.)

Klein's last "Newsbreak" has Katie "talking wistfully about doing more pieces on '60 Minutes' - or even moving to that show permanently if things don't work out for her . . . But the majority of people at '60 Minutes,' including the correspondents, dislike her intensely. They think she's a lightweight."

Well, that probably hurts, but Katie has to ignore it. She has a firm contract. New York magazine already said Katie plans to ramp up her production at "60 Minutes," with the intention of doing eight to 10 segments.

In other words, Katie, with a secure multimillion-dollar contract, will keep on keeping on, saying, in effect that one can't make an omelet without breaking eggs. And relentless attacks on her are not going to deter her; not even a book by Ed Klein, once the respected editor of The New York Times Magazine.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis