Katie Couric’s new bestselling memoir, “Going There,” proves critics right. Shedding her skin as a sweet, smiling – if shallow – public figure, now she’s the second coming of Katie Scarlett O’Hara, with threads, leather and beaux to boot.
Parallels dazzle, even if Couric led a conga line, not the Virginia reel, to mark her first time anchoring the CBS Evening News. In every big scene on 510 pages, she tells readers what she was wearing. On a history-breaking day, following Dan Rather and Walter Cronkite, she broke a rule: she wore a white jacket after Labor Day.
In Couric’s personal life, she’s surrounded like Scarlett at the Twelve Oaks barbecue – “my thick dating portfolio” – yet had her own button-downed Ashley Wilkes. Boston Red Sox chairman Tom Werner broke up with her by email and FedEx. Bummer.
As a younger journalist whose first job was at CBS News London, I read with insider curiosity. I knew Jeff Fager, later the CBS News chairman and villain of the piece. The producer was all American ambition in his office overlooking green Hyde Park.
Fager just wasn’t charmed by Couric, one of the few men in this tale who can say that. For that, he’s a “self-satisfied schmuck.”
CBS News was a high-minded place with pictures of Edward R. Murrow in London. At NBC News, meanwhile, Tim Russert gave Couric her first break, he who gave us Chuck Todd.
Finding inspiration in “Gone With the Wind” is no whim. Scarlett was a major (fallen) figure in American literature. We girls had few females to look up to past the age of Nancy Drew or Jo March.
Scarlett’s feisty, green-eyed Southern womanhood was an apt role model for Couric climbing the networks’ patriarchal pyramids, first as the adored co-anchor of NBC’s “Today” show. Even with her office next to co-host Matt Lauer’s at 30 Rock, Couric never witnessed ugly behavior, she claims, before his fall for sexual harassment.
So much for her reporting skills during those sunny days – or perhaps she possessed a shrewd political antenna.
Under New York urbanity, Couric is deeply Southern: a smart, sassy flirt, a Virginia thoroughbred. Her first husband, Jay Monahan, joined the Civil War reenactment scene on the Confederate side of history. He died at 42. (She wore a Gap sweatshirt and jeans that day).
Couric, a young widow like Scarlett, evokes the “magnolia-scented South” and her father’s favorite party foods: “honey-baked ham, fried chicken ...” Ah, Southern hospitality.
For her 50th birthday bash, Couric threw it at Tiffany’s. The Fifth Avenue shop lent her a diamond tiara. Her black dress had a “scoop neck that showed off my cleavage.” Black satin gloves finished the modern belle look.
See: Scarlett in black at the Bazaar where Rhett Butler bid in gold for a dance.
Inheriting the ’70s women’s movement gains, Couric was not a champion for sisterhood. She admires Gloria Steinem – who doesn’t? – but like Scarlett, her advancement focus is first person singular.
Her takes on former President Donald Trump and pressing questions of our age are quite slight.
While she was interviewing then-President George W. Bush, he said the Iraq War made a more peaceful world. “Despite the fact that the invasion has actually galvanized terrorists, I thought. But I kept that to myself,” Couric confesses.
A Cronkite or Rather moment was gone with the wind. Couric’s best moments over a long career were revealing Sarah Palin’s ignorance of newspapers and Laura Bush’s opposition to overturning Roe v. Wade.
Strange that she sensed no monkey business with Les Moonves, the CBS titan, who got fired for sexual misconduct. But she got even with Fager – with a shiver of “schadenfreude.”
In middle age, in therapy, Couric had an epiphany: “this radical idea that not everyone was going to like me.”
Living happily with second husband John Molner, Couric gushes about her East Hampton pad as if it’s Scarlett’s gaudy mansion in Atlanta.
Couric sent a witty note to John after their first date: “OK. First date evaluation. You are really fun and funny! Thanks so much for dinner and having blind faith in a blind date!”
(She wore a black leather Chanel skirt.)
Give her that: gumption. A real Katie Scarlett word.
Jamie Stiehm is a nationally syndicated columnist. She may be reached at JamieStiehm.com.