Katie Couric was the center of attention at the New York Women in Communications Matrix luncheon at the Waldorf-Astoria this week. The Matrix lunch is the spring gathering of Manhattan’s female media elite, where achievement awards are given to a bevy of power women. Everyone, as they ate their Chinese chicken salad, was buzzing about Katie: Is she or isn’t she abandoning NBC and The Today Show and jumping to the nightly news on CBS. And even though only she and her lawyers know for absolutely sure it looks as if yes, Miss Perky will be crossing her much admired “killer” legs under that network’s anchor chair by the end of May.
But Katie wasn’t the only star at what has become a very-big-deal luncheon. In the interest of full disclosure I have to reveal that I once won a Matrix award, too. But the luncheon was a sleepy little affair back when I received mine at the dawn of history, without either superstar recipients or presenters.
This year there were boldface names a-plenty including Geena Davis, being handed the Matrix for movies and television by her Thelma and Louise pal, Susan Sarandon, Candace Bushnell getting the award for books from designer Cynthia Rowley and Ellen DeGeneres receiving a special humanitarian award from Diane Sawyer. DeGeneres also served as the luncheon host, though she faxed in much of her performance, and only seemed interested in the doings when she got her own award.
Most of the winners were dressed for the occasion in this year’s version of trim lady-like power suits. Katie and Diane were in almost-identical black. But Geena, Susan, and Cynthia, too, for some reason, all wore very low-cut cocktail dresses on a chilly afternoon. I guess they checked with each other–or their stylists wanted to do something kind of nice for the paparazzi.
The guys on the program were Al Hunt, giving the newspaper award to Jill Abramson of the New York Times, and Bill Moyer giving one for radio to Joan Hamburg, who is a longtime broadcaster on New York’s WOR. Yes, kiddies, it was kind of a liberal love fest but then it always is.
Katie handed out the award for magazines to the editor-in-chief of Glamour, Cindy Leive, and gave her little presentation in rhyme. When she gave an award several years ago to Martha Stewart she also read a poem. She conceded that perhaps she needs a new literary device. Was she dropping a hint? Leive responded coyly with her own little poem that went: ” Thank you, Katie/ Your words are sublime/ Will you someday anchor the news in rhyme?” Cute, very cute.
But frankly, Diane won the presenters’ competition hands down. In her most honeyed tones, she managed to mix charm, gravitas, and a handful of Bartlett’s Famous Quotations together as she handed over DeGeneres’s award–which was for raising money for Katrina victims and, I think, for being “brave.”
By the way, Geraldine Laybourne, the CEO of the Oxygen network, introduced Diane and said that Oprah had once told her that she wanted to be Diane Sawyer. Then Ellen DeGeneres joked that she always wanted to be Diane Sawyer too. And when CBS makes their big announcement official, won’t Diane want to be Katie?
Now I’ve watched Matrix luncheons for low these many years and the tone of the acceptance speeches tend to reflect the times. Years ago they used to be very male-bashing and strong on “I am woman, hear me roar” content. Then the winners’ speeches changed, focusing on promoting the companies the women worked for, or their biggest clients. For a while, Conde Nast editors were always dutifully thanking Si Newhouse and Steve Florio and public-relations award winners were always grateful to Proctor and Gamble.
In recent years, in fact since George W. became president, women have tended to talk about their families, thanking their moms and dads, husbands, and kids and even asking them to stand up and be applauded.
But not this time. This time most of the women talked about themselves. Jill Abramson confided proudly that Al Hunt had once said that she had “balls like cast-iron cantaloupes.” Renata McCann, who won for advertising, told the audience that she had learned that leadership meant being comfortable with being uncomfortable. And Beth Comstock of NBC, who was the public-relations recipient, talked about realizing that she didn’t always have to be right. (Though you were left wondering if that meant she still had to be right most of the time and certainly more often than other women.)
And Geena Davis ended the day by declaring she is proud to be a “feminist”–something that nobody has said at the Matrix Awards in years. And she issued a subtle warning. She said she plays the president on a television drama and “it isn’t a situation comedy.” It isn’t a reality show either. Yet you definitely had the feeling that Geena, Susan, Katie, Ellen, Al, and Bill were feeling kinda hopeful for the first time in years.
–Myrna Blyth, former long-time editor of Ladies’ Home Journal and founding editor of More, is author of Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness–and Liberalism–to the Women of America. Blyth is also an NRO contributor.