More Katie & Kalb: Against Media Intimidation -- and Media Bias?

Other reports have emerged on Katie Couric’s discussion in Washington with Marvin Kalb on Tuesday night. Couric lamented there was "a lot of undercurrent of pressure not to rock the boat" on the Iraq war. She claimed Time and Newsweek and The Economist were "straight down the middle," and when Kalb suggested that a journalist shouldn’t be in the middle when something is "glaringly wrong," she said "advocacy journalism" was not her role, and claimed she thought it was "grossly inappropriate" to cheer one side. When asked by a student if she was an American first or a journalist first, she ducked like a Clinton: "I’d say an American journalist."

Michael Learmonth of the Hollywood trade publication Variety reported on Katie's claims of media intimidation:

Couric...said that as a co-anchor of "Today," she felt corporate pressure from NBC after a tough interview with Condoleezza Rice. After the interview, Couric said she received an email from an NBC exec "forwarded without explanation" from a viewer who wrote that she had been "unnecessarily confrontational."

"I think there was a lot of undercurrent of pressure not to rock the boat for a variety of reasons, where it was corporate reasons or other considerations," she said in an interview with former journalist and author Marvin Kalb during "The Kalb Report" forum at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

There’s no date given for the Rice interview, but it’s hardly true that Condi Rice was the recipient of softball interviews from intimidated morning show hosts – as if she were, for example, Madeleine Albright.

(Nearly everyone’s forgotten, but during the Clinton years, Secretary of State Albright was interviewed on Katie’s own morning show by believe it or not, Geraldo Rivera on a China trip. Geraldo wasn't exactly rocking the boat. He asked Albright: "The President has not merely raised the issue of human rights, he has trumpeted it from virtually every rooftop in the country and yet he’s not getting cut any slack back home by the critics right or left.")

Learmonth also drew the usual feminist lament:

Kalb, a 30-year veteran of CBS and NBC, broached the subject of ratings, and whether Americans are ready to accept a female evening news anchor. "I think there probably remains an underlying discomfort in this country with women in power," Couric said.

Marissa Moran, writing for George Washington University’s student newspaper, The Daily Colonial, added more detail on the Rice interview:

"I thought I was challenging but polite," Couric said. "At the time, there were not a lot of questions being asked of the war." She expressed the media’s importance of asking challenging questions but still allowing the viewer to make his/her own decision about the content.

The CBS anchor also described liberal news magazines as "straight down the middle," just like she probably thinks she lands on the spectrum:

Couric cited The Economist, Time, and Newsweek as publications that she feels are "straight down the middle" in their reporting. Kalb challenged, "Is it right for a journalist to stay down the middle when something is glaringly wrong?"

"It’s important to observe what’s going on and to ask challenging questions," Couric answered confidently. "We need to be skeptical of what we’re told and always check facts and figures. But it’s not my place to say that the war is wrong." She encouraged seeking facts to report the truth but admitted that "advocacy journalism" is not her role.

Couric used many examples and details from her reporting experiences to back up her answers, including an account from the presidential election of one network executive giving thumbs up when George Bush won Florida. She thought this gesture was "grossly inappropriate" because it gave away the personal bias of a news media figure.

This is mildly puzzling given Couric’s often overt editorializing, like in saying "You go, girl" to new Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi in 2002. (See the Couric pages here and here for more examples of Katie giving thumbs up and thumbs down to politicians.)

Katie the Diva emerged in a question that she seemed to answer by saying her dynamic personality was Too Big for the tiny evening-news format:

In response to Kalb’s questions about her switch from a wildly popular TV personality on NBC’s Today show to a much more serious role as evening news anchorwoman, Couric said that the public was unprepared to see her make such a drastic change, and they were taking awhile to get used to it.

"You become too well-known of a personality to fit into a 20-minute news broadcast," she said.

At the story’s end, Moran added:

Dan Curran '10 drew audible interest from the crowd when he asked Couric if she considered herself an American or a journalist first.

Her immediate response: "I’d say an American journalist." Applause followed.

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