Democracy Soup

Making sense out of the world of politics

Why Katie Couric pulled off a decent interview with Sarah Palin

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Originally published on on Wed, 10/01/2008 – 1:21pm

Is this the part where I say Katie Couric actually did a decent job in her recent interviews with Sarah Palin?

As regular readers know, I’m not a Katie Couric fan. And my expectations for her were slightly higher than Palin’s for the interviews.

So what was Couric able to accomplish that Sean Hannity (giggle, snort) and Charlie Gibson couldn’t? Gibson was likely forced to do the interviews from Alaska, giving Palin an advantage. To Palin, Gibson probably came across like John Houseman’s character in “The Paper Chase” but slightly cuddlier. The one major question that tripped up Gov. Palin almost didn’t get asked, since asking her to clarify what the Bush Doctrine was came as an aside.

To say we learned nothing about Palin from the Hannity conversations isn’t saying a whole lot, except that if you are going to say you didn’t blink to Gibson and you said you consulted with your family to Hannity, people will assume you’re lying.

But we learned a lot about Palin from the Couric interviews. We learned that Putin flying into Alaskan airspace was a concern. We learned that she couldn’t name any other time when John McCain was in favor of regulation of the economy. We learned that Palin couldn’t name a major court case other than Roe v. Wade. And we learned that while Palin, as a journalism major, couldn’t name a single newspaper or magazine she reads, though she has “read most of them, again with a great appreciation for the press, for the media.”

I have criticized Couric for asking questions about her world, things important to her. Perhaps questions dealing with major court cases or print media options are important in Couric’s world. The questions themselves aren’t startling, but the answers are what people will remember for many years to come.

My insufficient expectations for Couric were based on her Hillary Clinton interview for “60 Minutes,” perhaps the worst non-FOX interview of the campaign. Maybe Couric has learned a little from her mistakes.

But one of the reasons why Couric may have been able to pull out this interview is that, on some level, Couric and Palin are similar. Both were pioneers based on their gender. Both received sexist comments. And both were qualified for what they were doing, and underqualified for this next major step.

And both have survived the uncertainty over whether they were being attacked for how badly they were doing or because of their gender.

I have argued that Couric’s incompetence in the role as anchor and managing editor of the CBS Evening News stems from her interest in the world being limited to how things fit into her world. You could argue that Palin is acting in a similar vein in running for vice president.

It’s possible, but difficult to prove that Palin was more comfortable with Couric because Palin saw herself in Couric. “Here’s someone who have suffered in her career because she was a female pioneer,” you could imagine Palin saying about Couric. There would be a natural sympathy, something that Gibson and Hannity couldn’t accomplish.

Given that environment, Couric flourished. The idea of Couric asking a question a third time was astounding, especially since it was a Republican.

And give credit where credit is due. It was the Couric/Palin interviews that got Kathleen Parker to cry out that Palin needed to be dumped from the ticket. No one else had done that so far (though opportunities have been limited).

Will the Sarah Palin interviews be Couric’s ticket to respectability? No. The speculation that Couric will be taken off the Evening News sometime early next year is pretty much still true. (Ratings weren’t good, even with the exclusive Palin interviews). She’ll be reassigned to more work at “60 Minutes” or have a few primetime specials to justify her $15 million/year contract.

Despite her recent setbacks, Palin could have had a few terms as governor and perhaps run for the U.S. Senate, maybe against Mark Begich (if he defeats Ted Stevens in November) or a primary run against Lisa Murkowski. And despite her recent success, Couric could have a nice career doing interviews, perhaps in the tradition of what Barbara Walters has established.

There’s nothing wrong with trying to better your situation, but you should know, regardless of gender, when you are in over your head.


Written by democracysoup

October 1, 2008 at 1:21 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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