The book hits shelves next Tuesday, but The Washington Post obtained a copy early.
While many A-listers come up for criticism in her telling, the biggest revelation in the book is one that arguably reflects poorly on the author herself: In a passage first leaked by the Daily Mail, Couric writes that she once selectively edited an interview with Ruth Bader Ginsburg to “protect” the Supreme Court justice’s reputation.
Couric writes that Ginsburg, who died last year, told her during an interview for Yahoo in 2016 that professional football players such as Colin Kaepernick, who knelt during the national anthem to protest systemic racism, showed “contempt for a government that has made it possible for their parents and grandparents to live a decent life.” While Couric included some of Ginsburg’s criticism in the finished product, she decided to leave out that particular barb, concerned that it would besmirch the reputation of someone she was a “fan” of. In hindsight, she calls it a failure of her long effort to keep her personal feelings and politics “in check.”
“I lost a lot of sleep over that one and still wrestle with the decision I made,” she writes.
In the book’s prologue, Couric says that she intended to tell the full story of her life, beyond what her fans knew about her. The television business “made my dreams come true,” she writes. “But it is not the whole story, and it is not the whole me. The book is.”
She writes about having disordered eating during her teenage and early adult years, something she links to her mother’s unhealthy relationship with food. “Starve, cheat, binge, purge — the cycle would take years to break,” she writes.
Her attempt at radical transparency extends to her own family. She writes that much of her family “was blighted with racists,” including her Mississippi-born grandmother. She expresses remorse at the language and framing she used when interviewing Reginald Denny, a White truck driver who was attacked by a group of Black men during the Los Angeles riots in 1992, as well as the way the media covered the police beating of Rodney King that led to the unrest. “No one, myself included, was able to interrogate what any of this was actually about on a societal level,” she writes.
While taking out the family dirty laundry, she dishes on a live-in nanny who developed the “weird” habit of hugging her good night and eventually, as Couric saw it, “managed to grow deep, twisted roots into our family and my psyche” to the point of attempting to sabotage her marriage. (Tracked down by the Daily Mail, the nanny described Couric as a slob who couldn’t function without her.)
Another stress point at home was her growing fame during her first marriage, to Jay Monahan, in the 1990s. She writes that her star turn on the “Today” show “took up residence in our marriage like an overbearing houseguest. … The bigger I got — the more I was photographed and splashed across magazine covers and gossiped about — the smaller he felt.” Monahan’s parents learned about his death from cancer in 1998 after being contacted by tabloid reporters. “I cannot put into words how that sickened me,” Couric writes.
Perhaps the most anticipated part of her book deals with her personal vantage on the toxic culture of broadcast news that would eventually spawn so many #MeToo scandals. She writes that she experienced sexism and inappropriate comments from male colleagues and managers throughout her career: A CNN executive, she wrote, said at a staff meeting in 1983 that Couric was successful “because of her determination, hard work, intelligence and breast size.” And CNN host Larry King made a “lunge” for her on a date in her late 20s. “The tongue. The hands,” she writes. “The whole scene was such a cliche, I began to laugh and gently pushed him away.” Couric writes that she told King she was looking for someone closer to her own age — he replied: “No problem. But when I like, I really like.” Couric “wasn’t sure if that was a compliment or a warning,” she writes. (They parted on good terms: “Every time we ran into each other in the years that followed, it gave us a big laugh.”)
Then there was Lauer, a colleague that Couric writes “exuded decency and kindness, on and off camera” (and was “less of a chauvinist” than his predecessor Bryant Gumbel, she writes more archly).
Yet rumors about Lauer’s behavior percolated in the newsroom. In one, Lauer allegedly sent inappropriate messages to the wrong producer, asking her “to wear that skirt that came off so easily or something to that effect,” Couric writes. But she concedes that she and her colleagues were all too inclined to look the other way. “The general attitude at the time was it’s none of your business,” Couric writes. “A don’t-ask-don’t-tell culture where anything goes, and everything did. Assuming Matt was having a consensual fling, I didn’t even consider talking to the young employee about it and embarrassing her.” (She later learned of a “secret office called ‘The Bunker’” that was allegedly used by an unidentified male anchor for sexual encounters.)
When reporters asked Couric in the fall of 2017 about Lauer’s conduct with women, “I took their calls and told them the truth — that it had been widely assumed Matt had a lot of problems in his marriage,” she writes. “I knew he was a player, but I didn’t know his extracurriculars were happening inside 30 Rock.”
The two had dinner together in early November 2017, a few weeks before the scandal broke, and Couric writes that Lauer mused that “this MeToo stuff feels like it’s getting kind of out of control. It feels like a witch hunt.” After the dinner, she sent her former colleague a joking message: “Omg what the hell did you put in my drink? Phenobarbital???? Thank you for being such a good friend. I treasure you.” Lauer replied: “The length of our friendship and the comfort that comes with that is more powerful than any drug in a drink!”
After his firing, Couric wondered, “Had Matt seen this up ahead — had he been fearful that the MeToo movement was coming for him next? … I imagined him sleepless, haggard, depressed … maybe worse.” She then sent him a message of support: “Matt, I am crushed. I love you and care about you deeply. I am here. Please let me know if you want to talk. There will be better days ahead.”
Now, she writes, she doubts they will ever speak again. “I know Matt thinks I betrayed him, and that makes me sad,” she ultimately concludes. “But he betrayed me, too, by how he behaved behind closed doors at the show we both cared about so much.”
(There’s another brush with pre-#MeToo infamy: Couric writes that comedian Louis C.K. asked her to do a cameo on his sitcom, “Louie,” that bore similarities to what two female comedians accused him of doing in their presence in real life. “In the scene he pitched, I’m on TV, reading the news, while Louie watches. And suddenly I break from the broadcast to speak to him directly: ‘Louie, just do it. You know you’re gonna do it. So just take off your pants and get started.’”)
Throughout, there are high-profile clashes and A-list smackdowns: Of Martha Stewart, she writes, it took her “a few years and some healthy humbling (prison will do that) to develop a sense of humor.” Television-producer ex-boyfriend Tom Werner was a “textbook narcissist.” She marvels at how another ex-boyfriend, who she said had at one point been engaged to conservative talk-show host Laura Ingraham, “could be attracted to two so radically different women.” CBS chief executive Les Moonves, later ousted from his high-paying perch in 2018 after accusations of sexual misconduct, is remembered as “a close-talker with bad breath.” At a deeply uncomfortable lasagna dinner at the home of investor Jeffrey Epstein (long before he was charged with sex trafficking and died by suicide), Couric’s boyfriend at the time pointed out how young the women staffing the event were.
And while tabloids have clucked over the book’s charge that Couric’s “Today” predecessor Deborah Norville alienated viewers with her “relentless perfection” (“I’m really too stunned and, frankly, hurt to comment,” Norville told the New York Post), Couric also calls her “stunning,” “whip-smart” and “incredibly hard-working.”
But many of the revelations concern her thoughts about her career — from her climb up the ladder to her disappointments at the top of her field. Couric reflects that it’s considered more acceptable for men than women to throw sharp elbows in the workplace and writes with some regret about being “way less welcoming” to a charismatic female correspondent: Ashleigh Banfield, a younger MSNBC and CNN journalist then considered a rising star.
She found the tables turned when she moved from morning fame on NBC’s “Today” to become anchor of the “CBS Evening News,” where she earned $15 million a year. Couric says she got a “chilly reception” from the cast of her new network’s flagship newsmagazine show “60 Minutes,” for which she also worked as a correspondent. And she claims top show producer Jeff Fager (who, like Moonves, was eventually ousted amid allegations of inappropriate behavior) made her life miserable.
She was insulted when, as her “CBS Evening News” ratings failed to maintain an early surge, Moonves suggested she leave the prime-time slot to host the network’s morning show, a competitor of “Today.” “I didn’t leave the morning show I helped make number one so I could go to the third-place morning show,” she says she told him.
(Another disappointment came after her 2011 departure from CBS, when Jeff Zucker — her former executive producer of “Today” and the short-lived syndicated talk show “Katie” — was angling for the top job at CNN and asked her to put in a good word for him. “This is really my last chance to have a big job like this,” she recalls Zucker telling her. “And, of course, if you want it, there will be a job for you too.” He got the big CNN job in late 2012, but Couric writes that she “never heard from him about that job” for her.)
“The fantasy that I would come in and miraculously put CBS in first place had faded,” she writes, arguing that she faced sabotage from within the network. “The situation was unwinnable — we were trying to bring change to a place that didn’t want to change,” she writes. “We’d thought we’d been greeted as liberators; instead, we got an insurgency.”
Katie Couric will appear in conversation with Kara Swisher (“'Going There’ Live”) at The Anthem in Washington, D.C., Sat. Oct 30, 7:30. Tickets $35.00-$95.00. More information here.