Born in Arlington, Virginia in January 1957, Katherine “Katie” Couric has been the Anchor of the CBS Evening News since September 5, 2006. Prior to that, she spent some fifteen years as co-host of NBC’s Today Show.
Couric’s father John worked as a journalist at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the United Press wire service. He later became a public relations writer for the National Association of Radio & Television Broadcasters, and he encouraged his daughter to pursue a career in broadcasting.
In 1979 Katie Couric graduated from the University of Virginia with a degree in American Studies and became a desk assistant at ABC in Washington. After less than a year, she found work as an assignment editor in the fledgling Cable News Network’s Washington Bureau. After seeing her first on-camera reports, CNN President Reese Schonfeld told producers he never wanted to see her on the air again.
Couric moved to CNN’s Atlanta headquarters as Assistant Producer of the network’s talk show Take Two, where she did on-camera political reporting during the 1984 presidential campaign, but found herself out of work after the election.
Couric then became a reporter at WTVJ in Miami and in 1986 returned to Washington, DC as a general assignment reporter for NBC-owned WRC-TV. When she asked the station’s news director about opportunities to anchor, she was advised to look for a “really small market somewhere.”
In Summer 1989 Couric accepted an NBC job as backup reporter at the Pentagon for the season. She soon was hired as an NBC general assignment reporter by Washington bureau chief Tim Russert, who described her as “competent and unflustered.” During the 1989 U.S. incursion into Panama, Couric appeared regularly on NBC Nightly News and was soon acting as network weekend anchor.
In May 1990 Couric accepted the newly created position of national correspondent on the network’s morning show Today. In 1991 she filled in when Today co-host Deborah Norville took maternity leave, a change that soon became permanent when NBC noticed that ratings increased because of Couric.
Couric’s husband, attorney Jay Monahan, left the powerful DC political law firm Williams and Connolly to move to New York with Katie and work as a legal commentator on the NBC-Microsoft cable news network MSNBC. Monahan died of colon cancer in 1998, leaving Couric to raise the couple’s two young daughters. Couric responded with a public campaign to raise national awareness of this cancer, a campaign that included Couric allowing television viewers to watch the inner images of her own colonoscopy.
When Couric’s contract with NBC drew to a close in 2001, the newscaster profited greatly from a bidding war for her services. CBS 60 Minutes Executive Producer Don Hewitt offered her a treasure trove of Viacom cash and opportunities, including her own talk show. AOL Time Warner made a similar offer that included giving Couric the show of departing comedienne Rosie O’Donnell. Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg tried to lure Couric to their company DreamWorks. NBC finally prevailed, signing Couric to a five-year deal worth at least $64 million, thereby boosting her annual pay from $7 million to nearly $13 million; with incentive provisions and syndication sales, it had the potential to earn her up to $100 million.
But 2001 was not an entirely happy year for Katie Couric. Her sister Emily, ten years her senior and the eldest of the three Couric sisters, died that year of pancreatic cancer.
Former Ladies’ Home Journal editor Myrna Blyth, in her 2004 book Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness and Liberalism to the Women of America, wrote that Couric “wants us to believe she’s just like us,” an image belied by the fact that Couric gets $550 haircuts and spends $7,500 each week on her personal trainer. In a March 18, 2004 Salon.com profile titled “The Cruella Syndrome,” journalist Rebecca Traister detailed stories of “Queen of Mean” Couric throwing temper tantrums on the set, bullying her staff, and using her influence to get people fired, mailroom boys and network executives alike.
When Couric had first become Today’s co-host in 1991, a Newsmakers biographer wrote that she “considers herself a feminist and hopes to work on stories about politics, women, abortion debate, teen pregnancy, and the homeless, but is careful not to express her own opinions too freely on television. She believes that coming on strongly with a personal agenda might turn viewers off.” That analysis was not entirely accurate, however. Through her on-air statements and questions, Couric has frequently offered glimpses into her personal ideology and agendas. For numerous examples, click here and here.
In April 2006 Couric announced that she would be leaving NBC for CBS, to assume the duties of Anchor of the CBS Evening News, a move that would make her the first woman to anchor a U.S. network’s weekday evening newscast by herself. By early May 2007, however, viewership of the CBS Evening News was smaller than it had been at any time since at least 1987. The program’s ratings were consistently below those of its rival news programs on ABC and NBC, in all major markets.
In July 2008 Couric offered her opinion about why her ratings were so low:
“I find myself in the last bastion of male dominance, and realizing what Hillary Clinton might have realized not long ago: that sexism in the American society is more common than racism, and certainly more acceptable or forgivable. In any case, I think my post and Hillary’s race are important steps in the right direction.”
In May 2010, Couric introduced a report (by Kelly Cobiella) about a newly passed Arizona immigration law deputizing state police to check with federal authorities on the immigration status of any individuals whom they have stopped for some legitimate reason, if the behavior of those individuals — or the circumstances of the stop — leads the officers to suspect that they might be in the United States illegally. In a story designed to evoke sympathy for an “undocumented” Arizona couple who had given birth to 10 children since coming to the U.S. illegally, and who were now heading to Colorado so as to avoid getting caught, Couric lamented:
“Nearly two out of three Americans see illegal immigration as a very serious problem. More than three quarters say the U.S. should do more to keep illegal immigrants from crossing the border. Hundreds of thousands of them now live in Arizona. But as Kelly Cobiella reports, many no longer feel welcome.”