What’s That Flushing Sound at NBC?

The rules of morning television news, NBC’s Katie Couric told Ken Auletta earlier this year, require — among other things — that you shouldn’t “make people feel uncomfortable.”

“But like everyone who works in morning television,” Auletta wrote, “Couric knows that the rules are flexible. ‘I recently did an interview on episiotomies, so I’m not sure there’s anything you can’t do,’ she says.”

Okay? Okay! We can’t say Couric didn’t warn us.

Proof of exactly how flexible the don’t-make-people-uncomfortable rule actually is arrived this week, in the form of Bob Dougherty (a.k.a. Toilet Seat Man). A bearded, middle-aged chap from Colorado, Dougherty recently filed suit against Home Depot because, he alleges, he found himself super-glued to a toilet seat in a Home Depot restroom and had to be rescued by paramedics who carried Dougherty — toilet seat still affixed to his backside — out of the store on a stretcher.

And what do you get when you combine potty talk and a big-dollar ($3 million) lawsuit? Guaranteed press coverage, of course.

Dougherty’s plight inspired headlines like “When you Gotta Go, You Can’t” (Fox News) and, “He says he got bum treatment, sues” (Philadelphia Daily News). And, when someone this week alleged that this was not the only time Dougherty has claimed to have been glued to a toilet seat in a public restroom, headline writers again outdid themselves, from the New York Post — “Doo-Over Claim in Toilet Case” — to the Denver Post —“Second Toilet Story May Flush Claim” — for which Dougherty posed tossing a roll of TP in the air.

Which brings us back to Couric and the “Today Show.” Sensing there was more media mileage yet in their story, Dougherty and his lawyer took it this week to the small screen. And while ABC’s viewers saw Toilet Seat Man on the late-night talk show “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and Fox watchers heard him tell his tale on the celeb-news show “Inside Edition,” NBC tossed its news judgment right into the toilet, deeming Dougherty’s saga worthy of a sit-down with Katie Couric during the first, supposedly hard-news(ish) hour of Monday’s “Today Show.”

Dougherty, sipping from a gotglue.com mug, explained to Couric that he went to the bathroom at Home Depot because he had a “sour stomach,” found that they were out of paper seat covers but sat down and “continue[d] on with business” and later “tried to lift my legs up” and found his entire backside stuck. (Uh, Katie, we’re starting to feel sort of uncomfortable …) “I knew I’d figure out some way out of this mess,” he continued, “males are problem solvers…You know us guys, we don’t need a road map.” (Insert your own snide parenthetical comment here.).

“Wow!” explained Couric, in a demonstration of her well-honed skepticism, before asking Dougherty’s lawyer whether he thinks Home Depot will settle out of court. Said said lawyer: “You know, Katie, I never predict those things. We’re from a small town up in the mountains. We’re near Boulder, Colorado. And I remember all the press and the media coverage from the Jon-Benet Ramsey case, and if Home Depot wants to see that kind of press coverage and have [Dougherty] talk about how he thought he was having a heart attack and what not, you know, then we can try the case.” In other words, Watch it, Home Depot, even small-town lawyers know how the media works (and how to work the media).

And did Couric perhaps question the idea of conflating an unsolved murder case with a guy stuck on the throne? Perish the thought. That sort of thing might make morning viewers uncomfortable.

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.