Katie Couric and the Unrespectability of Modern “Journalism”

I want to begin by saying that this article is going to have a lot of political overtones to it. I also want to remind everyone that I am not a Republican, I am not a Democrat, and I don’t subscribe to, promote, endorse, or otherwise belong to the beliefs or platforms held or promulgated any one political party. There are things in the Republican, Democratic, Libertarian, Green, and even the Alliance party platforms that I agree with, just like there are many, many things in each of those party platforms that I disagree with. I did not vote for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton in 2016, and I did not vote for Donald Trump or Joe Biden in 2020. I am only explaining this to show that I am not writing this from a partisan angle, but rather one that is political in nature without discussing the merits of any other political stances. Ultimately this is about Katie Couric and how her actions exemplify that the media is, on the whole, untrustworthy.

Couric returns to 'Today' for interview with Lauer, says decision about  future coming soon | The Blade

Katie Couric used to be all over the place. From the time I was a wee lad she was always on television. She was on Today for a while, but was also on some actual journalistic shows like CBS Evening News, 60 Minutes, and ABC News. She has also appeared in movies and television shows in acting roles, published three books, served as executive producer on a handful of documentaries, guest-hosted Jeopardy!, served on the boards of several charities, and been a lifelong politically left activist and supporter. But I believe most people would describe Katie Couric as “in the media” and probably, especially given her work on CBS Evening News, 60 Minutes, and ABC News, as a journalist.

But now Couric has done something that is not very journalistic: She edited an interview she conducted with the late Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to “protect” Justice Ginsburg’s legacy and reputation as a liberal icon. Let’s talk about it.

Katie Couric: The Crime and the Cover Up

I briefly studied to become a journalist. I ended up going a different route that was probably even more shortsighted, but it eventually led me to law school and so far that’s working out. All that is to say that I am not a journalist, but I know just enough about journalism to know that one of the fundamental rules of journalism is to not intentionally omit content provided by an interviewee for the sole purpose of protecting them. But that’s just what Katie Couric did.

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In 2016, Couric interviewed Justice Ginsburg and asked her questions about Colin Kaepernick and other athletes who knelt during the “Star-Spangled Banner” to protest racism and police brutality against minorities. To her credit, Couric did keep Justice Ginsburg’s thoughts that such protests were “dumb and disrespectful” in the article, but Justice Ginsburg’s stance on kneeling was a little more nuanced than that. She believed that kneeling during the National Anthem shows a “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.” She went on to add that “as they became older they realize that this was youthful folly. And that’s why education is important.”

You have to admit, that’s a lot more eloquent and thought out that just saying “dumb and disrespectful.” I disagree with Justice Ginsburg here, by the way. I mean, I agree that the children of immigrants probably generally feel less positively about the United States because they did not grow up in the same environment their parents did, but I disagree that kneeling shows any sort of contempt for government. And even if it did show contempt for government, are there many institutions that historically have deserved contempt more than governments? I mean, the Third Reich and Soviet Union were both governments, and people (rightfully) have no problem having contempt for them. But I digress.

After failing to include Justice Ginsburg’s language in the final published interview, Couric did nothing for five years. But now in her forthcoming memoirs, Going There, in which she calls herself a “big RBG fan” Couric admits to omitting Justice Ginsburg’s full statements. But that’s not all. She also defended the omissions. How did she defend the omissions?

Going There: Couric, Katie: 9780316535861: Amazon.com: Books

Couric claimed that Justice Ginsburg, who was 83 at the time of the interview and still serving as a justice on the Supreme Court of the United States, was “elderly and probably didn’t fully understand the question.” She also said that Justice Ginsburg’s words were “unworthy of a crusader for equality,” and that a SCOTUS staffer even reached out later to say that the justice “misspoke.” Interestingly, I cannot find any evidence that the “misspoke” email came from Justice Ginsburg’s office, but it did come from SCOTUS’s public relations office.

Can you believe that? Katie Couric unilaterally decided that the words of a sitting Supreme Court justice were “unworthy of a crusader for equality” and left the comments out. First off, since when is it the job of a journalist to decided what is and isn’t worthy of some type of person? Secondly, if it is indeed “unworthy” of such a person, wouldn’t you want to publish that unworthiness so that the followers of that person could make a judgment of worth for themselves? It truly is frightening and someone in a position like Katie Couric would just decided that and use it to openly defend her actions.

So that’s it. Katie Couric intentionally left out Justice Ginsburg’s rationale for calling kneeling protests “dumb and disrespectful,” then said that Justice Ginsburg was probably too old to understand the question anyway, and then said that the comments were unworthy of Justice Ginsburg herself. There are no two ways to cut it. And apparently it caused a bit of controversy at the time because Couric was “conflicted” but David Weston, former head of ABC News told Couric that “[Justice Ginsburg]’s on the Supreme Court. People should hear what she thinks .”

What?

If you’re asking yourself that right now, you’re not alone. I read the stories in the Daily Mail and on Fox News twice each before I fully grasped the gravity of the situation. But the long and short is that one of the most public news media figures in the country intentionally omitted important details from a story for the sole purpose of “protecting” (Couric’s words) the legacy of a Supreme Court justice. Then that same prolific, public news media person stated that Justice Ginsburg was too old to understand the question, but did not call into question Justice Ginsburg’s capacity to hear and rule on some of the most complex legal cases in the world for four more years.

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So which is it? If Justice Ginsburg was indeed too elderly to understand the question (which I highly doubt because she always seemed alert and aware in subsequent appearances and during oral arguments), then shouldn’t that call into question the validity of some of Justice Ginsburg’s rulings between 2016 and her death last year? Especially on cases where Justice Ginsburg was in the majority of a 5-4 decision? I mean, if one of the most accomplished legal minds in the country couldn’t understand a question about athletes kneeling, could she have been trusted to understand more nuanced questions about the First Amendment? Probably not.

What this logic tells me is that Couric did not actually believe Justice Ginsburg was having trouble understanding questions. In fact, it would appear that Couric was motivated 100% by her own political leanings and wanted nothing more than to help maintain Justice Ginsburg pop-culture phenomenon through which most people on the political left venerated her even though they probably could not name a single opinion she authored or indicate (and certainly not recite the defense of) any actual point of view she held.

Katie Couric as a Case Study

Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, and all other cable news channels are not really journalistically news. They are partisan corporate mouthpieces for one of the two main political parties in this country and have become steadily more so over the last twenty years. We expect that. Those cable “news” companies have corporate sponsors to appease and that means whatever comes out of any given anchor’s mouth will be tainted with corporate influence where it doesn’t belong—the objective truth.

But for the big networks like ABC, CBS, and NBC that have their own evening news programs, we shouldn’t only get a party line. After all, those companies, while huge, make money through their non-news programming and could therefore afford to be a little bit more liberal with the actual truth of a given story, right? Well, maybe, maybe not.

The point is that television “journalism” has become unrespectable. No one can honestly say that when they watch the evening news they believe what they are getting is the objective, unadulterated truth. No one. If someone tells you they believe their local news channel is giving them nothing but facts, they are either lying to you or lying to themselves because there is absolutely no way anyone with a brain who has paid attention to the news in the last five years or so could actually hold that belief.

What Colin Kaepernick Started - The New York Times

What’s interesting is that the Daily Mail, a newspaper from the United Kingdom, first published the story of Couric’s omissions at about 11:30 a.m. Texas time yesterday (October 13). Fox News got wind of it and published its account shortly thereafter. But CNN, MSNBC, CNBC, NBC News, and CBS News don’t even have Couric’s name on the landing page for their websites. ABC News does, but only to say that Jennifer Garner will join Couric on her book tour.

To restate, this story about a well-respected person in the news media allowing her political leanings to dictate what she chose to publish to the detriment of readers and indeed to Justice Ginsburg’s intent is being completely ignored by some of the biggest news media outlets in the United States. Those media companies doing the ignoring also happen to have left-leaning biases themselves, so it’s not a far leap in logic to say that those outlets are letting their political leanings dictate what stories they do and don’t share. And in case you think that maybe there are just bigger stories out there, some of the stories that did appear on the front page of those “news” websites include John Travolta wishing happy birthday to his deceased wife, the Rolling Stones phasing out the song “Brown Sugar” from their live performances because of slavery overtones, an article about the McDonald’s Filet-o-Fish sandwich, and in a stunning refusal to see the relevance of the Katie Couric revelations, an article about how Jon Gruden’s ouster vindicates Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling.

These left-leaning “news” outlets are purposely omitting an article on the importance of journalistic integrity and how it relates to one of the most notable TV news persons in the last 30 years. Do you think they would have done the same if a “journalist” from right-leaning Fox News would have admitted to editing an interview Justice Sam Alito gave? Do you think for one second that CNN, MSNBC, NBC News, etc. would have given Ticker Carlson a pass for being an overt partisan hack? Absolutely not. There’s just no way. CNN is the most loquacious entity on the planet when it comes to attacking even the most trivial sins of anyone politically slightly right of center, but when one of their own commits one of the cardinal sins of journalism, they just ignore it.

And do you know what the kicker is? If they would just cover the Katie Couric story, I’d be more likely to respect them and Katie Couric. Sure, she did something journalistically reprehensible, but I believe in a person’s right to redemption in situations like this, and everyone, if they wanted to, could talk about the mistake, endure the week or so of ridicule, then go back to having Katie Couric be one of the most respected people in TV news. If Walter Cronkite had done something like this, I like to think he would have owned it, apologized, and moved on and within a few days would have been Uncle Walter again. But instead these big news companies are going full ostrich mode and will undoubtedly allow Katie Couric a free pass because at least she was protecting someone on the left and not someone on the right.

Unrespectable

This is why I do not respect the news. I’m not 100% sure I even respect journalists anymore. I mean, the people who are out there breaking incredibly important stories are people like Edward Snowden, Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning, and other brave individuals who have literally risked their lives and liberty to expose the truth of something, no matter how difficult or unpopular it might seem. All the big ones like Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC do is cave to people’s confirmation biases. No one watches CNN for the news. They watch it because they are either politically left leaning and want someone to tell them they are correct, or they are politically right leaning and they want to see what drivel the left-wing media is spewing. Same thing for Fox, though of course with the political polarities reversed.

I can’t respect that. How can anyone respect any institution in the business of informing the public that won’t take the time to offer the facts in an unobstructed manner? And look, I know that there will always be some editorial call on exactly what information to provide due to time constraints, objective importance, national security, etc. But that’s not what this is. These huge media outlets don’t trust everyday Americans to be able to take raw data and form their own opinions on a given subject. They think we’re stupid, and a lot of us either are stupid or only think the “other side” is stupid. Don’t believe me?

Don’t pay attention to the political leanings of Deadspin. Pay attention to the fact that a single news corporation had hundreds of it’s holdings saying the exact same thing. By the way, Sinclair also owns Bally Sports, and I will shamelessly plug our other articles talking about how awful Bally Sports is. But back to the matter at hand:

We live in a dangerous time for people who want facts. We live in a dangerous time for people who want truth. For thousands of years the regular population of a given area had a shortage of information because news traveled slowly in the days before the Internet, television, radio, and the printing press. I mean, really we didn’t have a good way to send information more than a few miles until the steam engine was invented, so basically from the dawn of civilization to the early-1800s, most people were generally uninformed.

Now the problem remains but the cause is the opposite. Now we have so much information coming at us from so many different sources of varying integrity that we can’t honestly discern what is objectively true and what is just being spoon-fed to us by a corporate behemoth with unlimited money and a rigid agenda. No one trusts the general population with raw information, so everything we’re given has been diluted to suit one position or the other. It’s awful, and I can’t respect any institution that doesn’t respect me. If Fox and CNN and all the others insist on treating me like an idiot, why should I believe in them?

Walter Cronkite | Biography, Facts, & Views on Vietnam War | Britannica

Journalism as it was once known is long dead. I don’t know how many true journalists are still out there, working hard to find the truth no matter what the ramifications of the truth might be. I know the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team did a heroic and necessary thing several years ago when it exposed the depths of the sexual assaults being committed and covered up by the Catholic Church, and that was truly a bit of brave journalism. Additionally, I know Daphne Galizia was murdered in Malta, likely due to her exposure and investigation into the Panama Papers. That was real journalism. Other than those two examples I can’t think of much that I would describe as true journalism recently.

Wrap Up

The conclusion is that the media is being more open in how politically motivated it is. If Katie Couric was instead Sean Hannity, and if Justice Ginsburg was instead Justice Scalia, this story would have been everywhere within an hour of it being originally published. But instead it’s the left-leaning Katie Couric and the left-hero Ruth Bader Ginsburg, so we all have to find it out elsewhere. Oh well. “It’s the world we live in, God help us all,” is a quote from Remember the Titans but it applies well to this situation.

My one bit of advice is to scrutinize everything. If you see a story on CNN or Fox News, try and find it on a different platform with different political biases. Somewhere in all of that the truth is hiding. I try to find the same story on Fox, CNN, BBC America, and at least one other. It used to be Al-Jazeera, but of course that’s not exactly reliable, either. The sad reality is that we live in a time when one must go out and find the truth for themselves instead of it being provided by the “news.” We must remember that facts aren’t political. Facts don’t have an agenda. Facts are just information, and everything past that is conjecture, spin, or untruth.

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