Couric Plays Devil’s Advocate, Bloggers Deliver Unseemly Hit

CBS's anchor pushed and challenged John and Elizabeth Edwards; she was skeptical, not cynical. But many bloggers' responses to her 60 Minutes interview were unjustifiably unkind.

What is it about Katie Couric? You’d think a house had just fallen on her sister the way bloggers characterize her. Couric’s 60 Minutes interview with John and Elizabeth Edwards, the first interview they gave since the disclosure that her cancer had returned and metastasized, was blasted so brutally after its broadcast last night that CBS and Couric seem a bit taken aback.

Greg Kandra, the editor of the blog Couric & Co., had this to say: “Viewers have described the interview in a variety of colorful and unflattering ways, using phrases ranging from ‘insulting’ and ‘rude,’ to epithets (particularly some describing Katie) that are frankly unprintable.”

For most of the interview Couric did what good journalists should do: she played devil’s advocate — not necessarily expressing her own opinions but opinions contrary to those of her interviewees. It would appear the Drudge Report missed these subtle nuances. Today’s front-page headline reads, “Couric’s Cancer Grilling.”

Grilling? Really? Last night’s segment was not a Mike Wallace special, but Couric did push and challenge; she was skeptical, not cynical.

The posts in response to the Drudge story outdid each other with their venom. “This woman has no class,” says yoyo46. “Is this a John Edwards interview or Hillary Clinton hit piece?” asked Cool Shades5641. “This is disgustingly bad journalism, she is victimizing the interviewees. What a lack of humanism and open-mindedness,” wrote Beryl.Hartman.

Lack of humanism? Couric spent the first quarter of the interview asking how Mr. and Mrs. Edwards felt, and how they reacted to last week’s horrible news. Only then did she venture into the political. The Edwardses came on 60 Minutes to discuss how cancer would affect, if at all, the remainder of his campaign. What did people expect the questions would focus on? Couric asked nothing that was off-limits. Television journalists should challenge interviewees; just because that rarely happens does not mean it isn’t supposed to.

More than any other prime-time anchor, Couric is in a position to empathize with John and Elizabeth Edwards. Her husband passed away of colon cancer in 1998; her sister succumbed to pancreatic cancer in 2001. She knows all too well the awkwardness of the subject and the pain of having to publicly answer questions about private matters. Perhaps that is why the Edwardses chose CBS for their first interview. To accuse her of a lack of class or open-mindedness is ignorant and unfair.

Independent of Drudge, bloggers were no kinder. “I’m not sure if Katie Couric is looking out for her dwindling ratings or for her own political gain here,” wrote Kim Pike, “but this just plain sickened me.”

The responses on the CBS site were just as caustic. “No real reporter would use the phrase ‘some people would say’ without attribution when the attribution was known,” wrote JonathanHoag. “That your entire production crew watched this interview at least once and not one single soul noticed the unprofessional conduct on the part of Ms. Couric is not credible either.”

What Hoag was referencing was Rush Limbaugh’s accusation, delivered on his radio program, that the Edwardses were praying to the god of politics — but other people, including liberals, have wondered that as well in the past several days. Couric is speaking on behalf of many Americans when she uses the phrase “some people would say” and she is not and should not be a Limbaugh intermediary.

Why is Couric taking so much heat? Are people threatened by a woman? Is it because she has been typecast as a soft news person from her years on Today? Is she too liberal? Too fluffy?

Or is it simply more fun to hate?

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Dan Goldberg is a CJR intern.