"Katie: The Real Story" by Edward Klein, Crown publishers, 288 pages.
Ed Klein's new biography of America's sweetheart Katie Couric hasn't officially been released, but it already is creating media buzz for its surprising revelations about the one-time "perky" morning host who became the anchor of the "CBS Evening News."
Klein paints a Katie Couric that is far from the sympathetic character many Americans see her as - a complex and ambitious Jekyll and Hyde figure.
On the one hand, Klein's book says she projects an image of the high school cheerleader she once was. But that masks her out-of-control ambition, her narcissism, and her inherent nastiness - qualities that have contributed to her downfall as the anchor of "CBS Evening News." [Editor's Note: Discover the "Real Story" of Katie Couric - Go Here Now.]
Klein's book "Katie: The Real Story," to be published next week, tells a deeper and more tragic tale: the way network television has squandered its franchise because its executives are out of touch with America. Their liberal agenda, arrogance, and egotism have contributed to the slide in their ratings, argues the author.
As Klein tells it, one of Couric's shortcomings and a reason "CBS Evening News" remains in third place is Couric's unabashed liberal agenda.
"I think the lesson of Fox News' success is a good lesson," Klein tells me. "Couric and the people around her at CBS are really out of touch with mainstream America.
"She hangs out with Steve Tyler of Aerosmith in Nantucket. That says everything. It's the old Chablis-and-cheese liberalism. People don't want to get their news from somebody who wears open-toed shoes, wears purple eye shadow, and who hangs out with Steve Tyler of Aerosmith at night. They want somebody more serious, more trained, more culturally attuned to what's going on in the world."
Klein, a former editor in chief of The New York Times Magazine who has written a string of bestsellers, is known for hard-hitting investigative journalism. While his latest work includes plenty of punches, it is balanced.
In relating Couric's earliest years in the TV business, Klein portrays her as a professional who is admirably ambitious and hard-working. We sympathize with her when she has stage fright and when she is about to be fired by CNN in 1980.
A along the way, her romances tended to be in relationships
with men who could help her in her career, Klein writes.
Eventually, she became a perfect co-host of NBC's "Today." At one point, the show was making a profit of $250 million a year, half of NBC's total annual profits.
But after 9/11, its ratings began declining. Its lead over ABC's "Good Morning America" shrank to 600,000 viewers.
Compared with Couric, whose favorite expression is "bite me," Diane Sawyer and Charlie Gibson had "more political heft," according to a producer who worked with them at "GMA."
With ratings falling at NBC, Couric began blaming those around her. She made life miserable for Ann Curry. Klein implies that was because Curry is an attractive newsreader. Couric treated makeup artists and even interns with contempt.
Meanwhile, Klein reports, Couric wasn't interested in spending time with her husband Jay Monahan when he was dying of colon cancer. That tells everything one needs to know about her character.
To be sure, their marriage was on the rocks, in part because of her overwhelming need to outshine him.
While "Jay was lauded for his courage and fortitude, Katie was roundly criticized by many of her colleagues for what appeared to be her curious detachment toward her dying husband," Klein writes.
Over time, Couric became a diva, and the negative publicity about her tantrums and personal life began to hurt her ratings.
To the rescue came Les Moonves, president of CBS. He wooed Couric from NBC and she replaced Dan Rather and Bob Schieffer on the evening news broadcast. Yet she was never cut out to be an anchor. The fact was that Katie's tough questioning of guests often originated with producers' whispered tips in her earpiece.
"Hi everyone," Couric chirped when she began her first CBS newscast on Sept. 5, 2005. Couric never seemed to fit well in the chair once occupied by Walter Cronkite. Ratings began a downward trend from almost day one and never recovered.
In contrast to her appearance on "Today," Couric seemed subdued, almost drugged. Perhaps she was trying to come across as a serious journalist, Klein observes.
Moreover, Katie seemed uncomfortable reading news. Her makeup was slathered on too thickly. Her clothes were "awful," according to a CBS executive.
When a technical glitch left her standing for a few minutes without a script, she yelled after the cameras went off, "Get me Moonves!"
A CBS executive points out that one reason Couric is paid $15 million a year is to "carry off these little glitches like a pro."
Eventually, Couric would lose 10 percent of the audience she inherited from Bob Schieffer, the veteran newsman who had simply been Dan Rather's temporary replecement.
As her ratings began to plunge, her public mask — the "affable, spontaneous, loosey-goosey Katie — seemed to melt away," Klein writes. Instead, she was revealed as the "frightened, confused, angry Katie underneath."
Klein tells me: "On the one hand, Moonves is probably the most successful entertainment programmer of his generation — the man with the golden gut. He has been extolled as the person who turned around CBS's ratings in entertainment on prime time. And he did."
But, Klein says, "This reputation has led him to believe that he not only understands entertainment, but he understands everything. And so he goes after Katie Couric the way he would go after a television star, an entertainer, to make the evening news focused on the person who's getting it to you rather than on the content of the information.
That's his Hollywood training. He doesn't know anything about news."
On top of that, "He doesn't allow his news presidents to run the news division. He basically runs the news division himself, without any background or competence to do so."
In contrast to Couric, Charlie Gibson of "World News Tonight," which is now number one, is a pro.
"He's covered politics, he's covered foreign affairs, he has the background, the experience," Klein says. "And people say, well, so does Katie. First of all she hasn't been a reporter covering news for about, oh, 15 or 16 years. She's been an entertainer and a performer for the last 15 or 16 years. Nor did she ever cover any foreign affairs."
Although she is too superficial to have deep liberal convictions, Couric's liberal image has hurt her as well, Klein says.
"She's a sort of classic limousine liberal. She is a good friend of Hillary Clinton. She got her publicist from Hillary. Her executive producer on "CBS Evening News," Rick Kaplan, is an old, old friend of Bill who slept at the White House many times while Clinton was in office."
But, Klein notes, "She's not one of these dyed-in-the wool ideologues. I think she's not deep enough and profound enough a person for that. She's more of a knee-jerk liberal. And I think her liberalism infuses everything in her life, including her work. But the thing that really has done her in is more her lack of the proper temperament and training for the job she holds than her ideology."
At heart, "Katie was not an anchor — sober, authoritative, and wise," Klein concludes in the book, which comes out just before the first anniversary of Couric's ill-fated debut on CBS.
Trying to explain why Couric has self-destructed, Klein says she has a "perplexing personality mixture" that combines "unfathomable ambition with gnawing self-doubt."
Journalistically, Couric is a hypocrite. She requires photographers to obtain her approval over use of the photos they take of her. Because of that, Klein's publisher Crown could not use the photo it originally planned for the jacket of the book.
As Klein proceeded during the past year and a half to write her story, Couric asked friends not to talk with him for this, the first unauthorized biography of her.
That did not harm the product. "They talked to me anyway, without her knowledge," Klein says.
"When I started this book, the evening news shows of the three so-called major networks, ABC, NBC, and CBS, accounted for nearly 27 million viewers total," Klein adds. "Now it's down to about 21 million. And it's still going down."
In 10 years, Klein predicts, "There probably won't be any evening news shows. And no one is to blame other than people who are in charge of those shows. They're killing their own golden gooses by boring people to death with the way they present the news, and their political attitudes, which of course are all liberal." These executives have "a sense of self-importance that because they're journalists they're somehow better than everybody else."
Predictably, Moonves has made it a point to disclaim responsibility for Couric's failure.
Already, some columnists are adopting Couric's PR line that there is nothing new in Klein's book.
In fact, the book bristles with new disclosures and fresh, on-the-record interviews with most of the people who have been important in Couric's professional and personal life.
Along the way, we learn the juicy inside story of Dan Rather's firing, Katie's relationship with Bryant Gumbel and later Matt Lauer, and every detail of Katie's multimillion-dollar contracts.
"The line that the material is just old, just irrelevant, is exactly the same response that Hillary and her people always give whenever anyone brings up an embarrassing subject about her," says Klein, whose last book was "The Truth About Hillary."
"So it is classic Clinton response machinery at work on this Katie book."
Ed Klein has written a masterful book that reads like a fast-paced novel but is as insightful a book on the television industry as anyone has written in recent memory.
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of NewsMax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via e-mail. Go here now.
Editor's Note: Discover the "Real Story" of Katie Couric - Go Here Now.
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