During a Tuesday interview with former Today show co-host Katie Couric, current NBC morning show host Savannah Guthrie scolded her predecessor for censoring comments made by late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in a 2016 Yahoo News interview. Guthrie told Couric that the decision to edit out those remarks “violates a cardinal rule of journalism.”
Despite the broadcast networks initially ignoring the major revelation from Couric’s salacious tell-all memoir, Guthrie made up for lost time: “…you did make an eye-opening revelation about an interview you did with Ruth Bader Ginsburg. You decided to leave out newsworthy comments that she made on the subject of kneeling during the national anthem.” The anchor demanded an explanation: “How did you justify that? It violates a cardinal rule of journalism to do that.”
Couric tried to defend her actions by arguing that journalists routinely commit such acts of bias: “Well, I think what people don’t realize is we make editorial decisions like that all the time.” She recalled the exchange:
Couric replied: “You know, I think Justice Brandeis said sunshine is the best disinfectant. And I think the more we can be transparent about the decisions we make and more we can say maybe that wasn’t the right one.” Guthrie followed up: “Do you think it was wrong, now that you look at it in the light of day?”
While acknowledging some fault, Couric still excused her journalistic malpractice: “…ultimately I think I should have included it, but I also think it’s really important to look at what I did include….I still believe I used the most critically important response.”
In addition to the discussion about Couric trying to “protect” Ginsburg, Guthrie also asked about disgraced former Today show co-host Matt Lauer: “You talk about [in] the book wrestling with trying to come to terms with the accusations against him. What did you ultimately conclude?” Couric recounted how she reacted to Lauer’s 2017 firing following multiple allegations of sexual harassment and abuse:
“Where does that relationship stand now?,” Guthrie wondered. Couric responded: “We have no relationship….as I got more and more information, how it was harder and harder for me to reconcile these two sides.”
7:33 AM ET
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: Let’s get one thing out of the way because it’s very blunt. I mean, you said it’s honest. The publisher calls it brutally honest. I mean, you take your shots. There’s some snark. Are you worried about the reaction that might get?
KATIE COURIC: Well, first of all, I think it’s been wildly misrepresented. I don’t think the tone and the spirit and the content of the book is like the tabloid headlines, I understand, are kind of portraying it. I think it’s actually really – it is honest, but it’s very complimentary about many, many people. And – but, yeah, listen, I wanted to be honest and I wanted to talk about my experiences honestly.
It’s really about my journey and I think I’m harshest on myself. It’s very self-critical, very, I think, introspective. And, you know, I call myself out on a lot of things because I think it’s most important to be honest about yourself and your own actions and your own, you know, behavior and attitudes. And I think what was really interesting about this book, Savannah, is I graduated from college in 1979, I got into the business in 1980, so I got to witness really seismic societal changes. And so I wanted to talk about my personal story against this backdrop of a change in attitudes and how we see things very differently in 2021, in a good way.
GUTHRIE: Let’s get into it because you do chart this meteoric rise in the news business. In a way, you were an overnight sensation and a lot of people know that. But what did you want –
COURIC: I wasn’t really an overnight sensation.
GUTHRIE: Well, to everyone else it seemed like it. I know you toiled.
COURIC: I worked, yeah. I worked hard in local news and at CNN.
GUTHRIE: Yeah. Everyone has that perception, though, that you just kind of came on to the scene and then you were famous and America’s sweetheart, but what did you want people to know about the boys club that you encountered and what it was really like in the news business in those days?
COURIC: Well, I think early on I encountered a lot of sexism. Someone the other day said it was casual sexism. I said I don’t think there’s anything casual about it. You know, I tell a story at CNN, when I was 26, and I walked into a meeting of male executives and one woman and the vice president said, “That’s not why Katie is successful. She’s successful because of her hard work, determination, work ethic, and breast size in front of a whole group of executives.” And at 26, I wrote him a scathing memo asking for him to apologize and I think in many ways that set the tone for the rest of my career. But, you know, I think it was a very male dominated industry, run by men, very few positions for women. And I’ve always said women need to be behind the scenes to really change things and I think you’re seeing that now.
GUTHRIE: Well, let’s talk about that because you talked openly about female mentorship. You said you were – had your own insecurities. You know, you felt like you had to protect your turf, those were your words.
GUTHRIE: Are you – I mean, do you regret that now? I mean, what’s your perspective on it now?
GUTHRIE: You said, “I was less welcoming when charismatic female correspondents entered my sphere. There were only a few coveted spots for women, I felt like I had to protect my turf.”
COURIC: Yeah, I mean, I think that’s brutally honest. You know? I think that I have mentored scores of women, many of who still work on this show and in the control room – hi, ladies – but you know, I think that when be there are very few jobs for women and men are making decisions not necessarily based on, you know, the right criteria, that sometimes you do get insecure and sometimes you do get territorial. I think it’s human nature. I think anyone in a high-profile position, in a coveted spot – and I think even outside the TV industry – both women and men have felt that occasionally. I just was honest enough to admit it, I think.
GUTHRIE: And to be clear, did you ever actively try to sabotage another female on-air correspondent?
COURIC: Never, never, never. I think I just wish that maybe I had extended myself more and shown people the ropes a little bit more. But I think when people are outwardly kind of vying for your job, it is hard to be generous, I think.
GUTHRIE: Well, let’s talk about your time here at the Today show. You were here 15 years, nine of them, your partner was Matt Lauer. You talk about [in] the book wrestling with trying to come to terms with the accusations against him. What did you ultimately conclude?
COURIC: You know, that was really, really hard, and it took me a long time to process what was going on because the side of Matt I knew, was the side of Matt I think you all knew. He was kind and generous and considerate, a good colleague. And, you know, as I got more information and learned what was going on behind the scenes, it was really upsetting and disturbing. And I think I – and then I did some of my own reporting, I talked to people, I really tried to excavate what had been going on, and, you know, it was really devastating but also disgusting. And you know, I think what I realized is, there was a side of Matt I never really knew, and I tried to understand why he behaved the way he did and why he was so reckless and callous and honestly abusive to other women.
GUTHRIE: Were there things that you, in the course of writing this book, you looked back on, stories or memories that you came to see in a different light?
COURIC: Well, you know, there’s always gossip in television news and I think there was gossip here and there about certain people. And, you know, I think it was a very permissive environment in the ’90s and I think permissive environments often result in serious transgressions. And, you know, I think back then it was sort of like you felt like it was none of your business and nobody ever came to me to talk to me about it. And I think our notion of what a consensual relationship has changed dramatically and you have to consider the power dynamics. I’m sure you’ve learned a lot about this too.
GUTHRIE: You talked about after his firing, whether – grappling with whether to continue that friendship. And you even include your actual text messages that you had with Matt, you kept them.
GUTHRIE: Where does that relationship stand now?
COURIC: We have no relationship. You know, I think I used those text messages because I thought they were very illustrative of how our relationship devolved and ultimately deteriorated. So I thought that was a powerful way to kind of really let the reader in to my thought process and as I got more and more information, how it was harder and harder for me to reconcile these two sides.
GUTHRIE: Talking about journalism, and this is very much a journalism story, you did make an eye-opening revelation about an interview you did with Ruth Bader Ginsburg. You decided to leave out newsworthy comments that she made on the subject of kneeling during the national anthem.
GUTHRIE: How did you justify that? It violates a cardinal rule of journalism to do that.
COURIC: Well, I think what people don’t realize is we make editorial decisions like that all the time. And I chose to talk about this and put it in the book for a discussion. I mentioned that it was a conundrum that I asked Justice Ginsburg about Colin Kaepernick and taking the knee and how she felt about that. And I did include the fact that she said it was dumb and disrespectful, it was stupid and arrogant, and quite a bit of what she said.
There was another line that I thought was – I wasn’t sure what she meant exactly and I thought it was subject to interpretation. What I wish I had done is asked a follow-up to clarify or just run it and let her clarify it later. But I think the most pertinent and direct response to the question about Colin Kaepernick, I included. And that’s why I raised it because maybe I should have done the other sentence as well.
GUTHRIE: Okay, let me push you on it a little bit because she did make those comments. You said in the book that you wanted to protect her.
GUTHRIE: So that’s not an occasion where you’re using that objectivity that’s so important to us journalists.
GUTHRIE: And the question is whether that undermines journalism at a time when reporters are under attack for bias like that.
COURIC: You know, I think Justice Brandeis said sunshine is the best disinfectant. And I think the more we can be transparent about the decisions we make and more we can say maybe that wasn’t the right one.
GUTHRIE: Do you think it was wrong, now that you look at it in the light of day?
COURIC: Yeah, I think I – ultimately I think I should have included it, but I also think it’s really important to look at what I did include. She had to make a statement afterwards saying her comments were harsh and dismissive. I think I still believe I used the most critically important response. But I think you’re right, it might have illuminated it even more if I included that other statement.