On Wednesday the Daily Mail published a piece reporting on legendary broadcast news anchor Katie Couric’s new book Going There, in which Couric admits to selectively editing comments made by the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg regarding black athletes protesting police brutality by kneeling during the national anthem.
Here are the relevant bits of the Daily Mail piece:
But Couric writes in her memoir that she thought the justice, who was 83 at the time, was ‘elderly and probably didn’t fully understand the question.’
Couric felt that when Ginsburg said that people like Kaepernick were ‘dumb and disrespectful’ they were comments that were ‘unworthy of a crusader for equality’ like the liberal Supreme Court justice.
The day after the sit-down, the head of public affairs for the Supreme Court emailed Couric to say the late justice had ‘misspoken’ and asked that it be removed from the story.
Couric writes that she was ‘conflicted’ because she was a ‘big RBG fan’, referring to Ginsburg’s moniker.
Couric called a friend, David Brooks, a New York Times journalist, who advised her that Ginsburg probably didn’t understand the question, even though she was still serving on the Supreme Court at the time.
However David Westin, the former head of ABC News, advised Couric to keep it in.
‘She’s on the Supreme Court. People should hear what she thinks,’ he said, according to Couric.
Ginsburg went on to say that such protests show a ‘contempt for a government that has made it possible for their parents and grandparents to live a decent life.’
She said: ‘Which they probably could not have lived in the places they came from…as they became older they realize that this was youthful folly. And that’s why education is important.’
Couric claims that she ‘lost a lot of sleep over this one’ and still wrestles with the decision she made.
According to Couric, she ‘wanted to protect’ Ginsburg and felt that the issue of racial justice was a ‘blind spot’ for her.
Ginsburg’s comments are the least shocking thing about this. She was a flawed hero for liberalism, due in no small part to her personal racism; it’s incredibly unsurprising that she would feel this way. What’s more shocking to me is that Katie Couric, one of the most powerful “journalists” in the world, would admit that she took the advice of the famously unethical David Brooks over the former head of ABC News and decided to run interference for Ginsburg when she got a little too deep into the racism pool.
Let me be clear: what Couric did isn’t shocking. (It’s very wrong, but that’s a different issue.) The fact that she admitted it openly is. Then again, the top of the media ecosystem has never been particularly subtle in hiding the fact that they exist to protect their personal access to power.
There are really only two types of “journalists“: those who chose the job for its proximity to power, and those who do the job in order to hold that power to account. What confuses people, I think, is that many journalists in the former category often do work that accomplishes the second: Jonathan Swan’s occasional incisive interview with a Trump official, Olivia Nuzzi’s sporadically illuminating dispatches from flitting around the West Wing, or, famously, Couric’s interviews with Sarah Palin. But at some point, there’s always a tell. Nuzzi was in a flirty groupchat with Milo Yiannopoulous and has been publicly admiring of Ann Coulter on more occasions than I can count; Swan’s most adversarial work largely followed condemnation for acting like a gleeful little slime puppy when the president gave him a scoopy on air. And now we have Couric’s admission.
There are also extreme cases, like CNN’s Chris Cuomo, who routinely goes through absurd pantomimes of combative journalism with handpicked punching bags in order to cultivate his image as a pugilistic Truth Defender, while simultaneously using his position to basically run the gamut of unethical, corrupt, and downright icky behavior behind the scenes. It’s no surprise that broadcast news anchors almost always fit into the “proximity to power,” camp, as the particulars of their role largely require them to be celebrity entertainers themselves and do little in the way of actual reporting.
The other trend is that the people I just mentioned almost never face any consequences for doing this. Nuzzi and Swan’s chummy access to Washington power has carried them from high profile job to high profile job; they will almost certainly end up with the stature of Couric and Cuomo someday. Cuomo is going to keep his job at CNN in perpetuity unless he fondles another one of his coworkers on camera with Jeff Zucker in the room (not an impossibility, but unlikely). And Couric, well, I predict that her book is going to sell just fine. That is what being a household name gets you, and it’s why Couric did everything she did. It’s why she lied for the sake of Notorious RBG’s reputation as the liberal girlboss singlehandedly leading the Women’s March to victory against Cheeto Man, and it’s also why she admitted it in her glossy portrait-covered book called Going There. Per the Mail, the rest of the book is packed with gossip and scandal, as Couric goes in on everyone from members of the royal family to her ex-boyfriends and even a former nanny. With all that juicy stuff, who cares about a little journalistic malpractice?