Ronald Reagan, "Purple Rain," The Mac, and a young Katie Couric finagles her way into an ABC affiliate.
pulling up her chair to the table for the first time.
Her experience from "The Today Show" to the country's first solo female news anchor and then online with Yahoo!
and now with her newsletter, Instagram Lives, and podcasts, makes her an invaluable source of insight at this moment, when the way we understand what's happening across the street and around the world just keeps changing.
I'm Kelly Corrigan.
This is "Tell Me More," and here's my conversation with cultural icon, insatiable journalist, and gardening enthusiast Katie Couric.
♪ 38 years ago, you're like a little cub reporter in Miami.
What did you think you were doing?
What did--what journey did you think you were setting out on?
I wanted to be a network correspondent by the time I was 30.
That was my goal when I was in local news.
I wasn't a very good reporter.
I was dreadful live.
And, um, I thought I was just kind of getting experience under my belt, so I would be able to grow and learn from that and ultimately cover Capitol Hill or the White House.
And was your ambition around changing the world?
Was there a journalist that you were, like, "I want to be like that person"?
I mean where did this come from?
I think primarily from my father who was a print journalist.
He covered politics for the "Atlanta Constitution."
He later worked for United Press in Tallahassee and Washington, D.C.
I think my dad gave me this love of writing, this love of being curious.
I just--I excelled at writing.
That was one thing I really loved and I was good at.
And I was a real procrastinator, so I knew I wrote well under pressure.
My dad used to make fun of me doing my homework in front of the front door before the bus came-- Uh-huh.
because I had waited till the last minute.
And so I think it was one of those things, Kelly, where my skill set and my interests and my passions really aligned with the particular profession.
And I feel so grateful for that because I have-- I've never felt like I've worked a day in my life.
38 years ago, it was like the big 3.
You know, there were these 3 networks.
There were 3 places to get your news.
Now I think there's 3,000 sources, and they're all in your pocket at any time.
Did you feel serious about signing on to this set of journalistic standards?
Well, it was a very different time when I got into the business in 1979.
I'm proud of my age, actually.
That's when I graduated from college, and it was such a dramatically different landscape.
3 network news divisions, really.
CNN started in 1980, and I was one of the original founding members of Chicken Noodle News, as they used to call us.
You know, it was--it was really before the Internet, and, um, there's that very funny clip of me and Bryant Gumbel discussing the Internet and what the @ means.
That little mark with the "a" and then the ring around it?
Gumbel: There it is!
I mean... A lot of people use it and communicate-- I guess they can communicate with NBC writers and producers.
Allison, can you explain what Internet is?
Couric: It was very, very different.
You know, that has pros and cons.
I've often been told when I lament about the good old days or wax poetically about how things used to be that there were so many people who were not represented in the media landscape, people of color, women, people from different socioeconomic backgrounds.
I mean, it was a very white, male bastion, but there were gatekeepers.
There weren't a million people kind of giving their point of view or reporting information.
We had certain standards.
You know, things had to be reviewed by a producer, an editor.
We had to double source things.
I mean, there were very specific things we had to do.
We would always strive for accuracy, obviously understanding that news develops and things change.
So you can't be 100% accurate, but I think everything changed with the invention of the iPhone.
We started seeing the democratization of news, which was, in many ways, a positive thing.
There have been a confluence of events and factors that have really dramatically changed the modern media landscape-- Yeah.
some things for the better and certainly many things for the worse.
It is a bitterly polarized news landscape, not only in cable news, but also online with algorithms feeding people what my friend says is "affirmation not information."
And this whole idea of engagement through enragement and kind of how can we gen up a lot of outrage to get people to really not only kind of be engaged but also continue to be fed because that visceral feeling is so satisfying in a weird psychological way.
So, news has changed so, so much.
I'm so grateful I did it when I did it.
I still continue to do it in a different way, in a very modern way, but it would be, I think extremely dispiriting to work in network news now.
If we are to live in this environment and we're just lay people trying to figure out what happened today, what do we do?
I don't know.
That's a great question.
When so many people think that Donald Trump won the election and believe that January 6 was caused by the Democratic National Committee, Joe Biden, and Antifa, you know we've got a real problem.
And we are living in a post-truth world.
The big test, I think, in a post-Trump world is, we'll straight-down- the-middle news.
With some analysis, is that something that people want to hear?
I mean, they have to be... intellectually rigorous to kind of also think for themselves and practice their critical thinking skills and assess a certain situation and not be spoon-fed what they're supposed to think or feel.
And, you know, I hope that we haven't lost our appetite for those things.
♪ Corrigan: What's a story that you wish you'd done?
I really wanted to interview Christopher Reeve following his accident because he was just such a profile in courage.
It sounds cliche, but he was so amazing and the work he did with spinal cord injuries.
And I always wanted to interview Princess Diana, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
I think she would have been fascinating.
But you got JFK Jr., right?
I did the last interview with him-- Corrigan: Wow.
when I was on the "Today" show, and I had such a massive crush on him.
I mean, who didn't?
And you know, and sometimes I wish I'd been around to cover the Civil Rights Movement.
That was such a-- a watershed moment, I think, in our history.
♪ Was there a story that you wish you could have a do-over on?
One that comes to mind is one I wrote about in my book, and that was an interview I did with John and Elizabeth Edwards.
And for some reason, it was about the choice she made to continue on the campaign trail with her husband after she had been told she had metastatic breast cancer that had gone into her bones, and I came across as strangely sort of judgmental about the decision she had made, which is so bizarre given that I had lost my husband to cancer not long before that.
I really regret it.
And I wrote her a note apologizing... and she was incredibly understanding, but I think to the world watching it, it just felt tonally off.
And what about stories you really nailed, stories you feel proud of?
One that I was really proud of was my interview with Sarah Palin in the 2008 campaign, because she was this new, exciting figure, but nobody had really interrogated her policy positions or her sort of accumulated knowledge or her ability to think critically and talk about the very pressing issues of the day.
I was very non-judgmental during the interview, and as a result, I think people saw her as she really was, and that was not ready for prime time.
She wasn't ready to be a heartbeat away from the presidency.
Madeleine Albright said, "Whatever you do, just let her talk," and I did, and I think as a result, that conversation was extremely revelatory.
and helpful to voters.
♪ Katie Couric, are you ready for the "Tell Me More" speed round?
I am ready!
Best live performance you've ever seen.
Oh, well, I'm a big Broadway nut.
So I have to say the most moving, probably "Les Miz."
What was your first job?
Uh, I was a counselor at a camp for blind kids in Washington, D.C. Wow.
Last book that blew you away?
I recently read "In Love" by Amy Bloom.
I loved "The Light of the World" by Elizabeth Alexander.
She's a beautiful writer.
So, those two come to mind.
What do you wish you had more time to do?
I would like to learn to play the violin.
Isn't that weird?
But it sounds painful for my loved one, so I think I'm not gonna do that!
When was the last time you cried?
I re-watched "Beaches" for some reason.
That's just made to make you cry.
And I just cried.
I think I needed kind of to unburden myself.
I had a lot of toxins that I clearly needed to get rid of.
What something big you've been wrong about?
That anatomy dictates identity.
If your high school did superlatives, would you have been most likely to become?
That's very dangerous.
Um...most likely to be the center of attention.
♪ Do you have stories that come to mind when you think at your life at the "Today" show or at CBS, where you went toe-to-toe with someone and said, "I don't want to do that story" and they said, "Katie, it doesn't matter, "like, people want this story, like, cover it or get out of here"?
I mean, I feel like I was with really pretty responsible people.
I mean, I think when Jeff Zucker did the "Today" show, I described him in my book as kind of a combination of Edward R. Murrow and P.T.
You know, he was a showman, but I think he also had a nose for a good news story.
And I remember when I was in local news-- and I wrote about this as well-- they wanted me to do a series about working couples, and it's called "No Time for Sex."
And I said to my news director, "I'm 27 and single, I have plenty of time for sex.
Hudson, that old married guy over there.
Get him to do that series."
'Cause I think they wanted me to do it because they thought it would be a little sexier if I did it.
And I said, "No, I'm not doing it."
If you think about, um... the increased need for media literacy-- Mm-hmm.
If you could whisper into the Department of Education and say, "This is what we have to teach in schools in K-12," what would you teach?
I guess--I mean, I think a lot of it is going on now, but I'd make it required.
I think that I would call the class or the program "Consider the Source"-- Mm-hmm.
because now, you know, it's not enough to say, "Oh, I read this."
When I see things, I say, "Who wrote it?
What source are they citing?"
and I Google that source.
And I realize, "Oh, this is garbage," but it takes a lot of time and effort to have media literacy today.
And, you know, people are busy.
In the 24/7 news cycle, you could be spending every waking hour-- Yeah.
kind of investigating the veracity of everything you read.
You know what else you read when you were a kid growing up?
[Chuckles] Oh, the one that I wrote?
Tell everybody about "Now" magazine.
Oh, well, you know, I think 'cause my dad was a reporter and I loved to write and I was actually kind of a creative kid, you know, I'd love to draw, and I did a whole magazine with articles in it.
It's still in my sentimental box at home-- That's great.
um, where I had articles and advertisements and, um, poems and all sorts of things.
Yeah, it was fun.
Now that you have your own Katie Couric Media, which is your own version of "Now" magazine, how do you decide what you want to cover and how do you decide how to cover it?
It's things I'm curious about, things that I don't quite understand.
And I always think, "Well, I'm pretty well-read "and I--I'm pretty well informed.
"If I'm having trouble truly understanding something, "could I help people who follow me or who subscribe to our newsletter better understand?"
I'd love to do hard breaking news, but I also like to do some fun things, too.
I like to do recipes and I like fashion and I like, you know, psychology and all kinds of important topics and relationship advice.
So we kind of really cover the gamut, and I've got an incredible team of people.
And a lot of times, we're collaborating with purpose-driven brands or brands that have particular missions, because as faith in institutions has declined, uh, a lot of companies are kind of stepping in and saying, "We want to take a stand.
"We want to take a stand because consumers care "and our employees really care about "more than just the bottom line, especially Millennials and Gen Zs."
So, it's--it's interesting.
We're saying, "Well, what do you care about?
"Is it environmental sustainability?
"Is it gender equality?
Is it racial justice?
Is it health and wellness?
Is it preventative medicine?"
So, we work with them and we do storytelling that is aligned with both of our values, so-- and it's editorially independent, but it's brand-supported.
♪ Is there anything that you do much differently now than you did, say, 20, 30 years ago in terms of reporting?
I would say I'm more vocal about my opinion.
I think--you know, it's funny because part of me thinks that that has been the death knell of the news business-- too many, too much commentary and not enough reporting.
But there are some issues that I feel so passionately about that I feel comfortable saying, "We've got to do something."
I think people want to see a full person.
I don't think it necessarily takes away from your authority, but, you know, it's also very different, like a morning show versus an evening newscast.
I'm thinking a little bit about... local journalism and newspapers and when there were these sources that we considered infallible-- Mm-hmm.
and then wondering about what you added to the mix by being approachable and personal and letting us know things about you.
I think that it is even more of a parasocial relationship since I was, like, doing morning television.
And I always tried to keep some kind of dividing line between my life and the viewers while letting them into some parts of it.
Obviously, when Jay got sick and for 9 months was going through colon cancer and then died...
I'm not sure I would have been so open about my experiences, but I felt like I could really do something positive by informing people about colon cancer and colon cancer prevention.
And that's why I did my colonoscopy.
You know, I used it as a springboard to inform people and to hope-- and to save lives, which I actually did.
This is why you need to get tested because catching those growths before they turn into full-blown cancer is what it's all about.
That's--that's a pretty cool thing to be able to say.
And a pretty cool thing to be able to do with that moment and all that heartache and grief is to sort of put it to some use-- Yeah.
for some greater good.
One of the things I feel like that has to be handled delicately that you've had to deal with as a journalist for a long time now is mass shootings.
Do you have thoughts or feelings after covering so many different shootings so many different ways with so many different outlets, sadly, about how best to cover really sensitive things like that that might have follow-on effects that we're-- should be very careful to avoid?
Well, there's a big debate on how mass shootings are covered.
Should you talk about the shooter?
Does that glamourize and glorify the shooter?
Does that result in copycat shootings?
So, I've seen that really shift a lot.
And a lot of focus is now on the victims and not the shooter.
The other thing that has been a big conversation of late is are we protecting the public too much?
Should they know more about what a weapon of war, an AR-15, actually does to a human body, that it pretty much makes hamburger meat out of human flesh?
And maybe they need to be shocked as they become more inured to these mass shootings.
So, I--I don't know the answer to that question.
I just know, we have to do something about this situation.
We're the only country in the world that has this problem to this extent.
And I think assault weapons should be banned as they were from 1994 to 2004.
Clearly, there are a lot of very disturbed and lost people who are turning to violence.
Young men primarily between the ages of 18 and 20.
The way I have done it is to really honor the victims to make sure people understand the lives lost, to share personal stories about the victims, because I think too often people become statistics.
And so when there is a tragedy, my team and I really try to... put a human face on the loss.
And it just makes it so much more real to people.
I know, because I follow you, and I see it after these shootings, one after the other, where you just put the picture of the victim and a little something about them in the caption.
I think it makes you understand that that could be-- that could be me.
That could be my child.
That could be my sister.
Um, so, that is the way that I honor the victims of gun violence, and I--I think it's appreciated by everyone-- the families of those people and the people who are reading about them.
♪ We have a thing on "Tell Me More."
It's called plus one, and it's a chance for each of our guests to shout out somebody who makes their lives a lot better in one way or another, informs their work, looks after their well-being.
Who's your plus one?
There are so many people, honestly, that have had an impact on my life, that have changed me, that have made me chart a different course.
You know, might be my husband, Jay, who made me become a lifelong cancer activist and somebody who has been determined to focus on prevention and awareness and funding cancer research.
I think another person would be Mark Barton, who helped me continue on this path of making people aware of the issue of gun violence.
I met Mark Barden and his wife, Jackie on December 16, 2012, two days after Sandy Hook.
You know, one of the hardest jobs as a reporter is to talk to people who have gone through something terrible.
And I knocked on their door... and they opened it and they let me into their home after the worst day of their lives, where their son Daniel had been murdered... in elementary school.
And I got to know them very well as a result of that.
Before that, Craig Scott who I'd interviewed after Columbine--he'd lost his sister, Rachel-- and I still stay in touch.
So, I think this started me on a journey, Kelly, of really trying to understand and deal with the problem of gun violence in America.
Couric: I couldn't understand after Sandy Hook why legislation didn't pass, even though I think it was 92% of Americans believed that there should be, um, stricter gun laws in this country.
Mark and Nicole Hockley, who also lost her son at Sandy Hook, started something called Sandy Hook Promise-- Mm-hmm.
which is in 23,000 schools.
It helps kids and communities understand the warning signs of someone who might be the perpetrator of gun violence.
They have handled their tragedy and this unspeakable loss with such grace and equanimity and compassion.
it's been almost something sacred to witness, and the people I know who have... suffered these terrible losses, they have changed my perspective so profoundly and I think sent me on a--a mission to understand how we can create a safer... a safer country.
So, I wanted to thank you.
In 2004-- Yeah.
you sat down with me and my dad.
We had just finished chemotherapy, the both of us.
I said to Kelly right from the very beginning, it's a terrible way to find out how many people and how much people love you to go through what she had to go through.
So, and I was happy to be there.
And we ended up on that couch with you for 19 minutes, which I think is a "Today" show record.
And, uh, it's a little bit surreal to be on the other side.
Isn't it funny?
But I--I really thank you so much.
I hope I was as good a guest today as you were all those years ago.
Well, if I could have you stay longer, I would.
♪ If you enjoyed this episode, you'll love our conversations with Robin Roberts and Judy Woodruff.
You can find them at pbs.org/Kelly.
To listen to our podcast with Katie, please turn to "Kelly Corrigan Wonders" on your podcast app.