Katie Couric is a cautionary tale
“Is she crazy?” read the early-morning text from a colleague.
“What is she thinking?” read a text from another.
“She can’t think this is GOOD,” read yet another.
The barrage of chatter from fellow media friends, all referring to the release of several excerpts from Katie Couric’s forthcoming, trash-talking tell-all, “Going There,” has barely let up since word first got out. And not in a good way.
The immediate reaction to the former “Today” show and “CBS Evening News” anchor’s petty and cringeworthy revelations from the people I’ve heard from was, generally, shock. Followed by disgust, then sadness.
It’s hard to imagine why a woman who’s enjoyed the kind of success, fame and power in a media career that so few could ever imagine would so giddily admit to being a bully, a mean girl and an absolute nightmare of a colleague.
Why, for example, would she needlessly bash Deborah Norville, whom Couric replaced at the “Today” show?
Norville, herself blind-sided by the digs, told another newspaper, “I’m really too stunned and, frankly, hurt to comment.”
Couric also admits to icing out other women coming up behind her and even impeding their careers.
One such woman was Ashleigh Banfield, whom Couric writes was “the next big thing. I’d heard her father was telling anyone who’d listen that she was going to replace me. In that environment, mentorship felt like self-sabotage.” She writes of insidious things like “turf protection” — cutting women down because, she says, “someone younger and cuter was always around the corner.”
This all feels so unnecessary. The stories aren’t even all that interesting, just needlessly cruel and oddly dispassionate.
Not surprisingly, some who know her have come out to paint a clearer picture of Couric’s behavior at work.
One anonymous source says, “[Couric] definitely contributed to the toxicity [at NBC]. Katie was part of a culture that wasn’t supportive of women, and she contributed to it.”
Another said, of an incident at the Sydney Olympics where she reportedly humiliated Banfield, “Here was America’s so-called sweetheart, showing she was no supporter of her colleague or another woman and she openly took joy in the fact that she’d at first blocked Ashleigh from being on set.”
Any woman who’s worked a day in television will tell you Couric’s stories are hardly unique.
When I was first coming up, I’d been making the rounds on CNN, MSNBC and Fox (all unpaid, of course — the pleasure, they made sure you knew as a newcomer, was entirely mine). When I started getting booked regularly for Fox appearances, one famously insecure female anchor resorted to locking me out of the makeup room, telling shows not to book me, trashing me to Roger Ailes, even telling him he shouldn’t have an atheist promoted at the network. It was hurtful at the time; she and I had barely had any interactions. This was purely turf protection.
And now, looking back, I have nothing but pity for those who feel like their only option as a woman in media is to literally lock out the competition. I decided then that, if I ever got the chance, I’d help any young woman who asked for it.
The star anchors weren’t the only mean girls. When I first moved over to MSNBC, one of the women in public relations locked me out of interview requests, while eagerly pitching my colleagues to outlets. When I found out, I was devastated. There was no reason for it, other than she wanted to hurt me and my career.
Which reminds me of one final story.
I was excitedly unpacking my things in a new office at Columbus Circle, after being given my own show at HLN, CNN’s sister network, when a head popped in.
“Hey! It’s so good to finally meet you,” she said, clutching a hot tea, a clothes steamer and what looked like 50 pages of scripts. A veteran anchor, she had the show leading into mine, which is always a fraught and delicate situation. Is she happy about that, or pissed? I remember thinking.
“I’m just down the hall,” she said. “Come by any time, let me know who I can introduce you to here at HLN, and I’m always here if you need to talk. I’ll be rooting you on — we gotta make these two hours work together!”
Years later, I’m happy to say, Ashleigh Banfield is one of my closest friends and confidants. We help each other out personally and professionally. And we talk every day.
So when we chatted Tuesday, her fresh takeaway was this: “I see the good in what’s come out of this whole sordid saga. And that is, people recognize how good it is to be good to your colleagues, your peers and the newcomers. It pays dividends throughout your whole career.” Nicely said.
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