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Jeff Simon: The double reverse hype of Katie Couric's new book

Jeff Simon: The double reverse hype of Katie Couric's new book

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Katie Couric visits Buffalo

Katie Couric won playing ping-pong while visiting 43North in Buffalo in 2016.

Semi-Retired Columnist and Critic

Jeff Simon began working at The News as a copyboy 57 years ago. Since that time, he has been closely involved in all aspects of The News' cultural coverage – as critic, columnist and Arts and Books editor for 25 years.

"Katie Couric reveals herself to be a misogynistic idiot — don't buy this book."

That's the headline, no less, for Maureen Callahan's column in the New York Post about Couric's large (528 page) memoir to be called "Going There" (presumably the self-proclamatory response to any superior or scold who ever advised her in her journalistic career "don't go there.")

You couldn't buy the book even if you wanted to because Little, Brown and Co. isn't publishing it until Oct. 26. Which is what makes all the current blowtorchings of Couric's autobiographical memoir so fascinating. Advance orders of the book can, of course, be placed, advise stories that sternly suggest you do otherwise.

This is remarkable, I must say. Maybe even singular. The New York Post has been full of stories hyping the contents of the book while its lifestyle columnist (Ms. Callahan, previously of Sassy Magazine and MTV) tells you straight from the shoulder to avoid the thing. All the juicy (and ugly) stuff is already out there, she says. In the New York Post for instance.

I hasten to tell you I haven't read Couric's book. I doubt, in fact, that I'll read every word of it although I suspect I'll dip into it and pay generous attention to what's there for myself.

It is my near-certainty that the book itself will be far more sympathetic than the Post's repeated immersions of it in whatever tub full of bile is available.

We've long become used to the way this sort of nonfiction book is published in America. Copies are provided very selectively to the press to review and excerpt so that a great deal of advance news can hype them. (Bob Woodward's chronicles of presidential pathology, for instance.) When the "news value" is more on the gossip side (the Post's Page Six, let's say) you get what seems to have happened to Couric, which amounts to double reverse hype. That is, hype in the guise of its opposite.

Many, if not all, of the nastier cats have been let out of the bag, leaving the rest of the text to pick up whatever sympathetic humanity has always clung to Couric's public image. Such "nice things" as there are in "Going There" are, I'm sure, much in evidence but then they're not what most readers will be after. Beans are being spilled here. Readers want to know which ones. They're going to be making tacos after all.

They want the stuff about Prince Harry, in his wild years, seeming to Katie to reek of booze and cigarettes from every pore. And Couric's rival and bête noire Diane Sawyer – whom she describes as everything Couric is not "tall, blonde, with a voice full of money" (psst: four years at Wellesley will do that) – smacked upside the head for, in Couric's eyes, "crossing the very fine line between revealing interview and the exploitation of troubled, often traumatized people in service of tawdry tidbits." Sawyer's Whitney Houston interview, for instance, where the substance-bashed star tried to reassure her audience that she thought "crack is whack."

Kingsley Amis once cheerfully noted that there was no point in writing unless you can annoy somebody. That's especially true, of course, for memoirists settling old scores, whether those old scores were real or merely perceived. Among those battered between Couric's paws in her book is an old boyfriend lambasted as a "textbook narcissist."

Even her late husband Jay Monahan – who died so young of colon cancer, which influenced his widow to "go there" and have a colonoscopy on the air – is reportedly bashed a bit for his unseemly, politically incorrect affection for the history of the Confederacy during the Civil War. Unless her commitment to candor is indeed heedless, such historical fetishism does seem to be an odd place to go in a widow's memoir.

Significantly, there are advance reports that NBC will allow Couric to hawk her new book on the "Today" show on Oct. 19. Just as significant are reports that CBS pulled the plug on a planned future interview by Gayle King on its morning show the minute honchos got a good look at how that network came off in "Going There." (Dismissed and disgraced CBS Maharajah Les Moonves is characterized contemptuously by Couric as "a close talker with bad breath.")

According to Callahan (and others), Couric in her book "decides to show that the rumors were true all along: Couric was out of her depth in network news, not nearly as smart as she'd have us think and her bubbly girl-next-door act was just that." An act.

Let me confess that I have always been genuinely shocked by anyone who didn't instantly know that all of Couric's much-vaunted "perkiness" and "girl-next-door" postures were indeed an act. In terms that J.D. Salinger might approve, it seemed criminally obvious from the get-go that she was a "real phony" not a phony phony.

The first time I ever saw Couric on TV was in the 1989-91 period where she was an NBC Pentagon correspondent and a former CNN assignment editor.

Let that sink in. Pentagon correspondent.

This is not a job that journalistic superiors give to softies.  The Pentagon, after all, is the home of official governmental information which means that it's commonplace for B.S. to be supplied with which to anesthetize public opinion. A Pentagon correspondent can be fairly certain to be shoveled a lot of B.S. on a frequent basis. Young, hard-charging officers as well as scowling senior officers can be expected to try to divert journalists from the stuff the Pentagon would rather people didn't know.

Unless journalists have the Right Stuff, they're in danger of being conduits of misinformation.

I can't imagine there was ever a time that Katie Couric didn't have the Right Stuff. And then some.

The first time I ever saw her was on a very rare foray of mine into morning TV for another purpose. But there was young, screamingly personable Couric hanging out with the "Today" show's then-weatherman Willard Scott, the shameless old St. Bernard of morning TV whose most famous trope was to introduce us to people celebrating their 100th birthdays.

So help me, everything that Katie Couric was could be instantly glimpsed back then by anyone paying attention to all the texts and subtexts. Here was an outrageously appealing person but also a hugely ambitious journalist with sharp elbows who felt no compunctions about enlisting her strongest and most public ally from the most anachronistic bunch of corniest figures on morning television.

To my utter astonishment, some cheesy banter between Couric and Scott was climaxed by Scott informing America that if there were any justice in the world, the young Pentagon correspondent would soon be a "Today" co-anchor in the chair famously vaunted by the redoubtable Barbara Walters.

I had never before seen such a raw, shameless, on-air plea for a colleague's career advancement. The genius of it is that it was carried by Scott, whose job it was to provide viewers with old-shoe comfort.

The raw careerist cunning of it all bowled me over. Nothing was going to stop this young woman, I thought. Ever. I wasn't entirely right but then I wasn't entirely wrong either. Nothing since has surprised me in the slightest in the bumptious and bumpy saga of Couric's ambition and her almost unerring ability to tick people off and charm them simultaneously.

What I will always unstintingly admire about Couric is that her act is a diabolically clever pretext for her ability to formulate and ask truly devastating questions of those who'd rather talk about anything else. She could be a formidable hunter/tracker of information when she wanted, all the while seeming to be the giggling cheerful perk pot who was just as likely to make fudge on the air or dress up for Halloween and ask killer questions.

I must admit that I am not impressed with all the reports of Couric's refusals to mentor other young women in the profession on the grounds of potential self-sabotage. The thing I've loved most in a professional life of more than half a century is that from my first day as a copykid (bottom of the totem pole work – filling glue pots etc.), the established professionals were incredibly eager to provide whatever information and wisdom they possessed to whatever bright and respectful apprentices might want them to.

How on earth could you not love a profession whose establishment back then, at best, was always on the lookout to increase and brighten its own number?

That, apparently, has never been our Katie.

I suppose I don't blame her. What it does, in fact, is, without shame, reveal the great occupational tradition to which she belongs.

Not journalism, but show business.

It's true that journalism is quite literally in Couric's blood. (Her father was a journalist.) But it seems to me that show business seduced and won her for a long time. If you want to be a star – as well as a good journalist – you can't be afraid to "go there."

"Going There" hasn't exactly made her popular prepublication. I wouldn't advise, though, that people clutch their pearls at her capsizing reputation.

As a consolation, she is likely to sell many, many cartons of books.

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Semi-Retired Columnist and Critic

Jeff Simon began working at The News as a copyboy 57 years ago. Since that time, he has been closely involved in all aspects of The News' cultural coverage – as critic, columnist and Arts and Books editor for 25 years.

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