There is a phenomenon called “familiar strangers.” These are the people you regularly share physical space with but have no more interaction with them than acknowledging each other’s presence. You see them on the bus or subway, at the local park or coffee shop and in the case of Katie Couric, in your home every morning.
There is an argument to be made that when you see someone over breakfast every day for 15 years, you know them. America saw Couric through two pregnancies, through the loss of her husband to colorectal cancer and through all of the antics she participated in on “Today” for all those years.
She had a front row seat for what became a sea change in media.
Oh, how wrong this supposition is. Or at least that is what Katie Couric wants you to know in her memoir, Going There, released late last month by Little, Brown & Co. This book promises to share the “behind the scenes of her tumultuous personal and professional life” — apparently she’s going there with her inside stories.
For the record, I have never been a fan of Katie Couric. I’m not really a morning TV person (though I do appreciate background noise at times). It seems forced, contrived and the women on these shows, they’re like TV’s moms or sidekicks. These roles seem to have been written by men for the purpose of embarrassing women.
Sarah Palin, #MeToo, and Matt Lauer
However, I love true stories. And what she’s seen could be incredible, since she had a front row seat for what became a sea change in media in so many ways. The rise of cable news stealing power from the big three networks. Television news losing influence to the internet as people chose to get their news differently. And then there was the reckoning day for bad behavior by men—#MeToo. She was there for all of it.
She comes off like the person who will make herself the sympathetic star of every story she tells.
The book is organized chronologically with short chapters that are like little stories you’d hear at a cocktail party or over dinner with well-connected friends. She is self-deprecating at all the right points. She shares lots of comments she got from viewers over the years criticizing her hair, her smile, her seriousness and takes it in stride (from the perspective of at least a decade later). She touches on all the right current events and where she was for each of them.
The one that resonates most? Her interview with Sarah Palin and the question that sunk the McCain-Palin ticket: “What newspapers and magazines do you read?”
“I’ve read most of them again with a great appreciation for the press, for the media… All of ‘em, any of ‘em that have been in front of me over all these years… I have a vast variety of sources where we get our news, too. Alaska isn’t a foreign country,” Palin said and by eliciting those words, Couric won the interview and inspired an SNL skit that still feels relevant.
But where is the accountability when it comes to more recent events? I have a hard time with Katie’s explanation of not knowing. About Matt Lauer and his many inappropriate relationships. About her late husband, the confederate war re-enactor (was he a believer in the Southern way of life, in other words, a racist?).
She comes off like the person who will make herself the sympathetic star of every story she tells. She doesn’t seem like a woman I would want to be friends with, nor work with.
Where’s the Introspection?
The book rehashes her story in enough salacious detail that it’s cringe-worthy at times. Where’s the perspective and introspection?
I don’t believe there’s much of “the” truth here.
Couric has explained that she wrote the book so that her daughters would know more about their father, Jay Monahan. If that’s the case why not do it privately? Or devote more than 200 pages (of the 510-page book) to their lives. Or write memoir of their time together and what it all means (not unlike Joe Biden’s Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship and Purpose). Do her daughters really need to know about their parent’s sex life, the afternoon delight phase and getting busy in their country cottage? This feels so unnecessary.
I suspect the motivation for writing this book was more about framing her own narrative (for her daughters and fans). I’m knee-deep into “The Morning Show,” which is based in part on Brian Stelter’s book Top of the Morning: Inside the Cutthroat World of Morning TV and in part on the takedown of Matt Lauer. The Alex Levy character can only be based on Katie Couric. Like the Levy character, Couric’s claims that she didn’t know about Matt Lauer and his despicable behavior in Going There ring hollow to me.
Early in my career as a journalist, I learned there’s your truth, my truth and THE truth. I don’t believe there’s much of “the” truth here. If Katie is your beloved “familiar stranger,”read this — you will love all of her anecdotes and possibly funny bits.
If you’re interested in the real story, or even the truth, keep shopping.