This is for you, Katie Couric, Pt. 2

Seeing as my thoughts Sunday about Katie Couric's interview of John and Elizabeth Edwards have sparked muchdebate, I thought I would add to what I said. Look, there's little doubt that Couric - whatever her motivation - turned a great opportunity into another slanted interrogation. That said, there's even less doubt that the Edwardses took what little Couric offered them and used the interview to craft a portrait of a family that exudes character, class and determination. A careful examination of several suspect questions reveals both assertions, while an overall examination of the interview - and everyone's response - reveals other worthwhile thinking points entirely. And with that in mind, let's go to the interview:
Katie Couric: At your press conference, you were both extremely confident, very upbeat. Elizabeth said, "Right now we feel incredibly optimistic. I don't expect my life to be significantly different." And I think some people wondered if you were in denial, if you were being realistic about what you were going to be facing here.
In other words, why don't you feel worse? That both John and Elizabeth didn't immediately ask Couric exactly who, specifically, wondered those things says quite a bit about their character. Elizabeth's answer was brilliant: "I think that it is our intention to deny cancer any control over us." So, too, was John's: "... we choose to live our lives fully, and with strength and optimism. We get to make that choice. And that's what we choose."
Katie Couric: Your decision to stay in this race has been analyzed, and quite frankly judged by a lot of people. And some say, what you're doing is courageous, others say it's callous. Some say, "Isn't it wonderful they care for something greater than themselves?" And others say, "It's a case of insatiable ambition." You say?
Clearly undeterred by the Edwardses' last answer, Couric pushes further. Again, who was doing the judging? Average Americans? Or assholes like Rush Limbaugh? John's answer, again, turned the premise of Couric's question on its head: "I mean, you offer yourself up for service to the country as the President of the United States, you deserve to be evaluated. I am perfectly open to that evaluation. I think that I know, when I'm running for president, I'm running for president because I want to serve this country, and because I want all people in America to have the same kind of chances that I've had. I've come from nothing to now have everything. And I think everybody in this country, no matter who their family is, or what the color of their skin, ought to get that chance." Sure, Katie, some say that service and the willingness to embrace something greater than yourself is "a case of insatiable ambition". They're called "morons".
Katie Couric: Glad I ... (laughter) I'm glad I could teach you something today. Some have suggested that you're capitalizing on this.
Not some, Katie. Limbaugh. In fact, he did so twice. And if you're going to insult the Edwardses with garbage like this, the least you could do is attribute the source. John, meanwhile, took your chin-high fastball and hit a line-drive home run: "But, I think every single candidate for president, Republican and Democratic have lives, personal lives, that indicate something about what kind of human being they are. And I think it is a fair evaluation for America to engage in to look at what kind of human beings each of us are, and what kind of president we'd make." I can think of no better indirect critique of the Republican slate than that.
Katie Couric: Some people watching this would say, "I would put my family first always, and my job second." And you're doing the exact opposite. You're putting your work first, and your family second.
Again, to Katie, service is synonymous with selfishness. And, above all else, who is she to second-guess the personal decisions of the Edwards family? But wait, she's not done ...
Katie Couric: I guess some people would say that there's some middle ground. You don't have to necessarily stay at home and feel sorry for yourself, and do nothing. But, if given a finite - a possibly finite period of time on the planet - being on the campaign trail, away from my children, a lot of time, and sort of pursuing this goal, is not, necessarily, what I'd do.
Right, it's not what you would do, but it's not about that. It's what they choose to do. Besides, looking back, it was what you did. I'm sorry that the Edwardses haven't wallowed in the news and felt appropriately sorry for themselves. John and Elizabeth's answer, about their late son and the importance of giving your children wings, far surpassed the merits of Couric's low-rent accusation.
Katie Couric: Even those who may be very empathetic to what you all are facing might question your ability to run the country at the same time you're dealing with a major health crisis in your family.
Here's where, as a viewer and as a human being, my anger with Couric reached its peak. I'm quite sure that, with John as president, America would be in capable hands. What's more, what is President Bush's excuse for the sorry state our country is in? Sweet Jesus, by your metric, Katie, everyone Bush has known, does know or ever will know must be facing a major health crisis.
Katie Couric: Can you understand their concern, though, Senator Edwards, that gosh, at a time when we're living in a world that is so complicated and so dangerous that the president cannot be distracted by, rightly so, caring about his wife's situation?
But surely, Senator, can't you at least understand the misguided wrongheadedness of a few tortured souls? I've got to be honest, Katie: When you had your "golly gee" moment and told us how complicated and dangerous the world really is, I threw up a little bit in my mouth. Do you honestly believe that Edwards would treat the office any worse than its current occupant? Shorter Couric: Why don't you just give up, guys?
Katie Couric: You said, this weekend, "I am definitely in the race for the duration." If you want to give the honest answer, how can you say that, Senator Edwards, with such certainty? If, God forbid, Elizabeth doesn't respond to whatever treatment is recommended, if her health deteriorates, would you really say that?
So, let's see, first John is in denial. Then he's a craven opportunist. Then he's got his priorities out of whack. Then he'd surely be distracted. And finally, he's a liar. You're quite a piece of work, Katie.

Point-by-point analysis aside, I'd like to discuss two notions I've encountered in the response to my original critique. First, that Couric did the Edwardses a favor by setting them up for great answers. In short, no she didn't. John and Elizabeth rose above, and their great answers reflect on no one other than themselves. They took garbage and turned it into gold. The suggestion that Couric somehow helped her interviewees presumes a level of journalistic acumen never before seen from the former morning show host. Curiously, this type of argument is one I've heard used when defending administration lickspittles like Tim Russert. His defenders argue that, in fact, Russert's role isn't to ask the tough, probing questions; instead, it's to ask them in such a way as to get his subjects on the record, which can then be used, by others, against them. This, of course, is bullshit - just ask Howard Dean. And so, too, is the suggestion that Couric helped her interviewees. I suppose she did, though through no fault of her own. Couric was out to help someone. But it wasn't the Edwardses.

e second notion I'd like to address is the idea that Couric was simply asking the tough questions that discerning voters would want answered by any presidential candidate. No, she wasn't. There's a difference between an interviewer asking tough, but fair questions and a vulture circling around its prey. The life-threatening illness of your spouse isn't fodder for horse-race, gotcha politics, the kind Couric practiced Sunday night. What she did wasn't tough, nor was it decent. As David Sirota said so well, "This was no ordinary interview - this was a televised guilt trip." And indeed it was. Couric, who pointed out that politics "can be a cynical business", proved that assertion to be true, time and time again. But cynicism doesn't happen in a vacuum. It happens, as Sirota points out, in cases where people like Couric and the Beltway cocktail party set decide to exploit rather than inform. It happens where servile so-called "journalists", in trading integrity for access, do the right-wing's job for them. It happens in a climate where determination is denial, service is opportunism and promises are lies.

That said, while Couric's handling of Sunday's interview was shameful and reflected the tone Democratic presidential hopefuls should expect from the media as the primaries approach, in no way does that excuse cheap personal attacks directed at the interviewer, attacks I've seen in the aftermath of Sunday's "60 Minutes". Couric's not a bitch. Nor is she a whore. She just did a terrible job, period. Gender and appearance don't factor here - nor should they ever. Ability does. And the way to respond to incompetence isn't with sexism, it's with competence. Our arguments, like those made by the Edwardses, should rise above. Besides, there's so much in this interview to critique, why waste your time by pandering to the lowest common denominator? We can, and should, do better. Sunday night, John and Elizabeth Edwards gave us all the template by which we should face even the toughest challenges. In our dealings - and in this case - we would do well to embrace their example.

Tags: 2008 elections, 60 Minutes, cancer, Elizabeth Edwards, Health, John Edwards, Katie Couric, president (all tags)

Comments

1 Comment

Re: This is for you, Katie Couric, Pt. 2

Reallly excellent article here on Elizabeth covering some of her talk yesterday and all the cancer hubbub:

http://www.cleveland.com/printer/printer .ssf?/base/living/1174984821116020.xml&a mp;coll=2

by okamichan13 2007-03-27 07:07AM | 0 recs

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