April 10, 2006,
The torch of Dan Rather has been passed at CBS, and another liberal flame-thrower is on the job. Katie Couric may seem to some as too stuffed with Perky Morning Cuteness to be attacked as an icon of the Liberal Elitist Media. But as different as her sparkly "That Girl" personality is from Dan Rather's wizened weirdness, they have one thing in common: Truth is a malleable commodity, something to be stretched and smudged like Silly Putty on the Sunday funnies if the political cause is right.
One moment sticks out in remembering Couric's approach to journalism. Reporters rarely admit their political leanings, but on the network morning shows, the female anchors are bold enough to identify themselves as part of the feminist movement. The words "feminist" and "we" can be interchanged, as they were in a June 2, 1994, Today interview when Katie Couric asked author of Who Stole Feminism, Christina Hoff Sommers, "what should we be using other than this angry rhetoric" in the feminist movement?
But a much more pernicious form of bias was revealed when the talk turned to statistics. Sommers scowled at the thoroughly discredited statistic that domestic violence increases after football games. Discredited statistics discredit the cause. But not for Couric, who suggested the feminist cause is more important than the truth: "Let's say, if one accepts your thesis, that these statistics are inflated or are used incorrectly. Aren't you worried about throwing the baby out with the bath water? So Super Bowl Sunday isn't the biggest day for men battering women. Aren't you afraid that you're going to be dismissing the problem all together if you refute that, or if you constantly criticize that?" Couric's Law: Don't refute errors if they set back liberal progress. Katie Couric needs to be taken seriously: as CBS replacing one Rather with another.
It's not that critics can't mock her for bouts of unbearable lightness. It's easy to remember her reading a Washington Post satire of Bob Graham's bizarre daily chronicle of his own small doings in 2003, then reading it to Graham as if it was real, even though it had laughable stage instructions like "Ascend stage, stumble, regain balance." Or asking Time editors later that year why there was no woman on their Person of the Year cover on the American soldier, when there was a woman standing in the center of the cover.
In 1997, after Lisa Myers profiled Sen. Fred Thompson as hearings began into Democratic fundraising abuses, Couric asked: "Lisa, back to the really important things. I remember he brought that country singer Lorrie Morgan to a Washington dinner once a few years back. Is he still dating her?" But even in the light-hearted moments, she can be mean-spirited to conservatives. Katie Couric thought Rush Limbaugh's prescription-drug addiction was killer comedy fodder when she guest-hosted the Jay Leno show: "I feel actually good because I flew out here, and Rush Limbaugh sat next to me on the plane. He gave me some vitamins. Whaa! It feels good!"
CBS will be under extra pressure from outside as well as inside the news division to give Couric a gravitas transplant, to be hard-hitting, and guess who will be getting slapped. Couric has a long record of liberal bias, especially on social issues. It was Couric who heavily suggested to David Brock he could not be trusted on the Anita Hill story since he came from the "ultraconservative" American Spectator, even as she interviewed Hill with syrupy questions about her historic legacy. But three years earlier, when she was just a reporter, she hailed The Nation magazine without even a liberal label: "It's always been a platform for speakers who have been ahead of their time. This morning, we'll look at a new book that reminds us how important that platform has been."
It was Couric who presided over two days of stories implying that Christian conservatives created a "climate" that led to the brutal beating death of Matthew Shepard in Wyoming. More recently, it was Couric who dragged the Nazi connections out, no matter how strained, for Arnold Schwarzenegger and Pope Benedict, and then lectured others about peddling "dirty" allegations. Just weeks ago, it was Couric who pounded Domino's Pizza founder Tom Monaghan about how his vision for a Catholic college town in Florida was "like, wow...really infringing on civil liberties," and "eschewing diversity and promoting intolerance" and "de facto segregation."
But the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric will probably still be a very comfortable neighborhood for liberal heroes, especially liberal women. She's hailed Madeleine Albright as a "rock star" and welcomed Nancy Pelosi to the House leadership with a "you go, girl." She is well known as a bowing and scraping ring-kisser of Hillary Clinton, going all the way back to 1992. In April of that year, Couric talked with Hillary about charges she'd be the "power behind the throne" and asked: "Do you think that those kinds of reactions, Ms. Clinton, are the product of just good old-fashioned sexism?"
She was still doing it when hailing "candid" Hillary's memoirs in 2003, and remembering the health care debacle: "But were you surprised at the backlash? The really vitriolic, violent backlash against you in many ways? Do you think it was good old-fashioned sexism?" With all this sympathy and you-go-girl feminist cheerleading, do Couric and her new employers really think it outrageous for conservatives to wonder if she won't have an enormous rooting interest in Hillary for president in the next year or two?
Tim Graham is director of media analysis at the Media Research Center and an NRO contributor.