The New York magazine cover story about Katie Couric that has media buzzing once again is called “Alas, Poor Couric.” But it really should be titled “The Katie Chronicles.” As a salute to Tina Brown’s The Diana Chronicles. That’s because the piece reminds me most of all of one of those features that popped up when it became clear that Charles and Di’s marriage was not the fairy tale that everyone had been primed to expect. And though this time it isn’t Malice in the Palace exactly, it certainly could turn into a media battle royal.
In the article, we hear, for the most part, Katie’s side of the story. She obviously posed for the grim cover photo. And in the shot of her in a pinstripe suit inside she looks as wistful as Diana looked alone at the Taj Mahal. Katie told author Joe Hagan in the news bite of the piece, “I have days when I’m like, Oh My God, what did I do?” No doubt Di also said exactly the same thing.
And Katie did allow her longtime producer and “really, really, really close friend” Nicola Hewitt to speak on the record to the author of the New York cover story. Hewitt bashes CBS for reneging on its promises and not giving Couric the support she needed to pursue the news stories she wanted and take command of the news division. Hewitt also complains that CBS news management is cheap and tends to protect the old guard instead of focusing on Couric. It is kind of like Di’s friends who talked to Andrew Morton for his book and complained about Charles so that she didn’t have to. . .
But Katie gets her digs in as well about how tight-fisted CBS is. Of course her $15 million salary is taking a big bite out of their news budget. She murmurs delicately, “Having been at NBC for seventeen years you do get very comfortable with the way things get done.…Often the first question people would ask about a story is “How much does it cost?” And I didn’t experience that a lot at NBC, quite frankly.”
Katie, just like Diana, was sure she was going to shake up a stodgy establishment. . Taking on the royal family was tough for Di but shaking up the nightly-news format has been a total bust for Katie. And there, of course, is an important difference. The public loved Diana. The viewers of the nightly news have given a thumbs-down to Katie. Her ratings remain in freefall, and even her new executive producer, the controversial Rick Kaplan, says rather bluntly about his big-ticket star, “A lot of things that made Katie successful in the morning probably don’t work in the evening news broadcast.” Not exactly a vote of confidence from the guy who is supposed to fix your show.
Others at CBS, resentful of Katie’s big salary and diva-like demands of her posse, have also been dishing about her and her peculiar behavior, much as Charles pals discussed Di’s frequent mood swings. Some claim that she is “going through hell” because of those lousy ratings, and that stress has made her take it out on her staffers. They describe how she kept slapping a producer on the arm for using the word “sputum” in a June story about the notorious tuberculosis victim. “I was aggravated, there’s no question about that,” Couric admits, but does not explain why the word caused her tantrum.
Of course, Katie’s original romance was with CBS chief, Les Moonves. It was his enthusiasm for making changes in the news format that, she implies, made her take the job. “I remember talking to [former NBC president] Andy Lack, saying, “What should I do?” He said: ‘You’re going to have to feel like, I like this person. I can work with this person. And I clearly felt that way about Les.’” But does she feel that way anymore? Doesn’t sound like it. And how does Moonves feel about Katie? I bet he does not like The Katie Chronicles. And as Diana and Charles has taught us all, when one starts fighting in the media, there is very little chance for a happily ever after.