After Palin interview, Katie Couric gets some respect -- sort of

BlogHer Original Post

CBS News anchor Katie Couric's interview with Gov. Sarah Palin is the best interview with the Republican vice-presidential nominee that has taken place so far: substantive, specific and with great follow-up questions. For much of the time the Couric has been in the anchor chair at the Tiffany network, observers have been logging her missteps and taking bets on her professional demise. Now that Couric has shown ABC news' Charlie Gibson how it's done, will respect and ratings follow?

Atlantic magazine columnish James Fallows hopes so:

Couric deserves better ratings for the CBS news based on the steely relentlessness of her questions.

But he follows the compliment with this odd assertion:

Unlike Charlie Gibson, and unlike Joe Biden in a (possible!) future
debate, she has no background complications of the older white man
bullying the younger, attractive woman.




So let me get this straight. At first, network execs reportedly worried that Couric couldn't do the job because she lacked "gravitas" despite having more than 25 years broadcast news experience at the time. Now, we're supposed to credit her sex, not her experience and news judgment for the success of the interview?

Even Fallows knows better. He advises other journalists to emulate one part of Couric's "brilliant technique." When Palin said she and Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain had not decided whether to support a moratorium on mortgage foreclosures as part of the nation's financial rescue plan, Couric asked, "What are the pros and cons?"

The Columbia Journalism Review's Liz Cox Barrett also says that Couric's follow-up questions were the key to the interview's success:

Overall, solid work on Couric’s part. She kept focused on the economy;
she didn’t let a vague talking point/assertion go unchallenged.

But it could be that Fallows' comment and some of the knocks that Couric has taken reflect the anxiety and confusion that some men stll display when confronted with powerful women. It echoes the complaint from Michel Martin, host of NPR's Tell Me More complained about the sexism she saw in the initial reactions of leading Democrats to Gov. Palin's nomination:

Rather than take her ideology seriously, her record seriously, and her
obvious gifts as a politician seriously, they see a Girl, and a Mommy
to boot. And so how could they possibly get tough about her ideas about
governance, her experience, or ask whether her politics are actually in
step with mainstream Americans?

More recently, CNN's Campbell Brown charged the McCain campaign with sexism for the limits it has placed on Palin's availability to the press:

Tonight, I call on the McCain campaign to stop treating Sarah Palin like she is a delicate flower that will wilt at any moment.
This woman is from Alaska, for crying out loud. She is strong; she is
tough; she is competent. And you claim she is ready to be one heartbeat
away from the presidency. If that is the case, then end this
chauvinistic treatment of her now. Allow her to show her stuff.



Couric's advantage wasn't that she was one professional woman interviewing another. It was that she was a skilled journalist who gave an important political figure the fair, tough interview she deserved. Her colleagues would do well to take note.


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