When Katie Couric left NBC-TV to replace Dan Rather on CBS (and also sit in the chair once occupied by Walter Cronkite) I admit, I was skeptical. In her role as one of the hosts of the “Today” show, she was acceptable and seemed to be in conformity with the talents of the other co-hosts. She also had that cutesy-pootsie quality about her that endeared her to the over-60 ladies who just wanted to “hug her to death.” But in the anchor chair on “The CBS Evening News” … well, I withheld my final judgement – until last night.

It was on Sunday’s CBS “60 Minutes” that Couric interviewed John and Elizabeth Edwards about Mrs. Edwards’ latest cancer diagnosis and how it might affect her husband’s run for the presidency. What developed was one of the most shameful TV interviews I have witnessed in recent months. Most of Couric’s questions began with “some people say,” then she would ask derisive questions such as, wasn’t John Edwards being “opportunistic” by staying in the presidential race while his wife was dying of cancer. Or worse, “there are those who say you are putting your ambition to be president ahead of your family’s needs.”

Note that “some people” are never identified. The insulting questions thus seemed to come, not from Couric, but from some unidentified and nebulous source. The offensive questions continued again and again, until candidate Edwards, clearly displeased with Couric’s attack dog approach to the interview answered, “First of all, there’s not a single person in America that should vote for me because Elizabeth has cancer. Not a one. If you’re considering doing it, don’t do it. Do not vote for us because you feel some sympathy or compassion for us. That would be an enormous mistake.”

Couric jumped ship from NBC to CBS for a reported annual salary of 15-million dollars. Since then, her nightly newscast has remained entrenched firmly in third place, behind NBC’s Brian Williams and ABC’s Charles Gibson – trailing by more than 2-million viewers each evening. CBS News acknowledged on its website today (www.cbsnews.com) that it has been inundated with emails from viewers complaining about Couric’s insensitive line of questioning, including: “Some people say that if you are elected president, you won’t be able to run the country effectively while dealing with your wife’s illness.” The same “some people” line of questions materialized over and over again, although the prefacing began to get both tiresome and obvious after about the tenth time. The only identification of “some people” that I’ve been able to trace is Rush Limbaugh, who, on his radio talk show, twice called Edwards’ decision to stay in the race “political opportunism.”

Mrs. Edwards, to her everlasting credit, defended her husband’s decision to remain in the race, saying she didn’t want her legacy to be taking her husband out of the running when he has the possibility of contributing great service to his country. And, as for her own condition, “Everyone is going to die. I simply know from what.”

Couric, for whatever time she is allowed to continue to anchor the news on the “Tiffany network,” needs to understand that a good broadcast newsperson is not a prosecutor, charged with cross-examining guests. If she has the courage to watch a videotape of her Edwards interview, she will quickly discern that so far she has failed to commit journalism.

– Chase.Hamil

 

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