Zoe Stratos | opinions editor
Oct. 21, 2021
Katie Couric did way more than just “Going There” in her new memoir — she went above and beyond. Even though the book hasn’t been released yet, there’s been enough leakage of the contents to flood a house.
Couric left nothing to the imagination of her longtime fans and colleagues. She opened the closet on her racist family skeletons, work relationship with former co-anchor Matt Lauer and his 2017 sexual misconduct scandal and many other messy moments.
The book exudes vulnerability, and we have to credit Couric for her honesty, but some of her messiest moments need to be discussed.
The former TODAY co-anchor opened up about an interview she had with the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg that has been at the center of news outlets’ coverage, and calls into question her credibility as a journalist.
The story follows a 2016 interview with RBG during the release of her book “My Own Words.” However, Couric admittedly left some choice words out of the final video made for Yahoo News.
At the time of the interview was the height of the NFL protests, in which the then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt during the national anthem — a protest then joined by many other players throughout the season to fight racial injustice.
According to the article that accompanies the video on Yahoo News’s website, when asked about how she feels about Kaepernick, and others athletes, refusing to stand for the anthem, Ginsburg said, “I think it’s really dumb of them.”
“Would I arrest them for doing it? No,” Ginsburg continued. “I think it’s dumb and disrespectful. I would have the same answer if you asked me about flag burning. I think it’s a terrible thing to do, but I wouldn’t lock a person up for doing it. I would point out how ridiculous it seems to me to do such an act.”
Couric then asked, “But when it comes to these football players, you may find their actions offensive, but what you’re saying is, it’s within their rights to exercise those actions?”
“Yes,” Ginsburg said. “If they want to be stupid, there’s no law that should be preventive. If they want to be arrogant, there’s no law that prevents them from that. What I would do is strongly take issue with the point of view that they are expressing when they do that.”
As a prominent figure for left-winged citizens, these comments were enough to make headlines, causing Ginsburg to backpedal, telling listeners she was “barely aware of the incident or its purpose, my comments were inappropriately dismissive and harsh. I should have declined to respond.”
But truthfully, Ginsburg was saved from harsher critiques, according to DailyMail.com, as Couric admitted she omitted the worst of RBG’s comments on the subject.
Following the 2016 interview, Couric received an email from a Supreme Court public affairs aide requesting that material be excluded from the story because Ginsburg had “misspoken.”
A self-proclaimed “big RBG fan,” the Yahoo global anchor ultimately heeded the request, and left out potentially the most vital quote to that portion of the interview:
The protests demonstrate “contempt for a government that has made it possible for their parents and grandparents to live a decent life. … Which they probably could not have lived in the places they came from … as they became older they realize that this was youthful folly. And that’s why education is important.”
After consultation from friends and colleagues, with a mixed bag of responses, according to Couric, she ultimately decided she “wanted to protect” Ginsburg and felt the issue of racial justice was a “blind spot” for her. Moreover, Couric believed Ginsburg was elderly and didn’t quite understand the question.
Even though I can respect Couric for the honesty in her memoir, it comes too late. As journalists, we’re bound by truth. The explanation for the omission, though Couric admits she still struggles with the decision, isn’t justified.
Protecting, at the time, an 83-year-old Supreme Court justice wasn’t part of her job, nor was listening to the requests of a PR aide. And as for Ginsburg’s elderly status, if she couldn’t understand the hot button issue, how could she clearly make decisions as a Supreme Court justice?
Being a fan of an interviewee is more than fine: Everyday I’m starstruck by who I talk to for stories. But it doesn’t matter if I like them or not, their direct quotes, good or bad, are what go into the paper — or in this case, the video.
Journalists can’t pick and choose who they’re partial to. Had Couric interviewed Brett Kavanaugh with similar results, would his answers have been edited? Or any other justice?
Moreover, American trust in mass media is lower than ever. According to a report from Gallup, 33% of Americans have no confidence at all in news outlets reporting fully, accurately and fairly. The 2020 report is the second-lowest mark on record, right behind 2016.
In journalism, no one should be immune from critique, and our most important step now is to reel in the trust of our citizens. Couric took a step in her book with the confession, but we need to continue that moving forward — on the first try.