April 17, 2014

Couric “60 Minutes” Interview

This last Monday morning the blogsphere was brimming with opinions about Katie Couric’s interview with Elizabeth and John Edwards on “60 Minutes.” The blogs and comments mostly blasted Couric or the Edwardses. It was a close game, with the Edwardses coming out slightly ahead.
Having spent almost 50 years in the media, over fifteen directly involved in news/talk radio in one capacity or another, I know that negative comments outweigh positive ones somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 to one. I know you rarely hear a compliment. Therefore, it didn’t surprise me that the blogs and comments I read were almost all negative. They either trashed Couric for her interviewing style, her questions, or her attitude, or they accused the Edwardses of being disingenuous and cynical for taking advantage of the return of Elizabeth’s cancer.
I haven’t watched “60 Minutes” in over 15 years at least, but my wife and I were visiting friends who wanted to watch (they TiVoed it), so we viewed after dinner. My male friend went to sleep almost as soon as Couric’s interview began and I had a difficult time not following him to the land of 40 winks. The two women stayed awake and grumbled about Katie Couric. My friend’s wife said she used to watch the “CBS Evening News” regularly before Couric replaced Bob Schieffer, but switched because she hated Couric. My wife, when she watches the news on TV, watches Jim Lehrer on PBS, hadn’t seen much of Couric but didn’t like the way she looked or the way she asked questions.
My hostess asked me, “What did you think of the interview?” I’m not very smart, but I am bright enough not to disagree with two intelligent women, so I thought I’d see what the blogs were saying and I read and watched the interview online so I could analyze it a little more and have a more informed opinion.
Overall, I think the negative comments almost balanced out, with the Edwardses having the fewer negatives. I got the impression that most bloggers and commenters were in the grips of selective perception. In other words, they watched the interview with a pretty strong bias for or against the principals and used the interview to reinforce the opinions they had already formed. If they didn’t like Couric, they used the interview to reinforce their negative views. Same with the Edwardses.
Because I have never watched Couric anchor the “CBS Evening News” or had rarely seen her on “Today,” I had no opinion of her ability as a serious newsperson. I thought Les Moonves’ decision to have her replace Bob Schieffer and Dan Rather was a cynical one made by an entertainment executive in an attempt to merely improve the ratings, not to improve the quality of the newscast. I was not a huge fan of John Edwards, although I voted for the Kerry/Edwards ticket against the Bush/Cheney ticket. I also realize that he looks incredibly good now in comparison to Cheney, so there is probably an Edwards halo effect somewhere in the back of my head. With these biases in mind, I analyzed the interview.
Couric asked 21 questions. The Edwardses had 29 responses—Elizabeth 13 and John 16. In watching the interview, it seemed it was more about Couric than the Edwardses. Of Couric’s 21 questions, I thought two were leading, one was assumptive (giving the answer in the question), and two were what I would call “girly.” Question number 18 was, “They’re 6 and 8. They’re still baby birds.” I can’t imagine Bob Schieffer, Brian Williams, or Charles Gibson, using that phrase; it seems a little unprofessional and non-newsie. Question number 20 was, “Can you understand their concern, though, Senator Edwards, that gosh, at a time when we’re living in a world that is so complicated and so dangerous that the president cannot be distracted by, rightly so, caring about his wife’s situation?” Again, I don’t think Bob Schieffer, Brian Williams, or Charles Gibson, would say “gosh.” A little too cute.
Several bloggers and commenters put Couric’s interview in the context of her keeping working several years ago while her husband was in treatment for (and eventually died of) cancer. I think that fact is irrelevant to the “60 Minutes” interview. I think the objective questions are, did Couric do a good job of asking questions, were the questions good, fair ones, and did the Edwardses answer them straightforwardly and clearly.
When considering a television interview, you should evaluate both the content and the performance. Because television is a visual, intimate medium, performance always trumps content. In terms of Couric’s content (the questions), overall they were good. I’d give them a B+. In terms of the more important element, the performance, I’d give Couric a C. She looked out of her depth and as though she was trying too hard to be simultaneously serious, objective, and caring—a difficult acting assignment that only the most experienced actors can pull off. Couric is not that nuanced and her image, built up over years doing cream-puff interviews on “Today,” can’t overcome her cute cheerleader perception and image. And she looks like she’s trying too hard to do so.
I’d give John Edwards an A- for the content of his answers, but a B- for his performance. He just doesn’t come across as authentic. I think he might be sincere, but he doesn’t project sincerity—perhaps because he tries too hard to be genuine. I’d give Elizabeth an A for her content and an A for performance. She came across as strong, sincere, straightforward, and smart. She seems like the real goods—authentic.
It almost seemed to me that Elizabeth would make the best presidential candidate and that John would make an ideal news anchor—good looking, great hair, nice voice, and a good reader of well-thought-out content. He had better hair and was a better actor than Katie.
On the other hand, Katie had much better hair and was much cuter and much younger than everyone else on “60 Minutes.” The other anchors looked like CBS had raided the morgue for them. Katie should replace Andy Rooney immediately—she’s infinitely cuter and CBS could find someone who could writer funnier stuff. She’d also be a big improvement over Morley Safer, who looks like one of the old-man Henson puppets. Time for a new puppet.
Let Couric do all the segments and the commentary on “60 Minutes” and when Obama gets the Democratic nomination, let Elizabeth and John Edwards do the election coverage and co-anchor the “CBS Evening News”–another reason to root for Elizabeth.