In 'Going There,' Katie Couric lays out her life in intimate detail
"On TV, you are larger than life but somehow smaller, too, a neatly cropped version of who you are," writes Katie Couric in a new memoir, teasingly titled Going There. "Real life — the complications and contradictions, the messy parts— remains outside the frame."
Television, she writes, "is not the whole story, and it is not the whole me. This book is."
Excerpts of the book, out on Tuesday, have been leaked to tabloids, which in past days have been running plenty of breathless coverage claiming Going There "torches" or "eviscerates" various celebrities and professional rivals. Much of this is quoted shamelessly out of context, but the "there" of Going There does turn out to encompass a lot of intimate details of Couric's life: She's open about industry sexism, professional rivalries, the death of her first husband, and her relationship with former Today Show co-anchor Matt Lauer, who was fired after allegations of sexual misconduct.
One of the more unexpected and interesting aspects of the book is the way it brims with experiences of the body: Couric's skin turning orange after a misguided carrot diet or years struggling with bulimia, as well as funnier, grosser stories about not showering for days or squirting breast milk across the room to shock her husband. You get the feeling Couric is relishing her ability to be visceral and vulnerable after so many years of being coiffed and poised on screen.
The warping effects of having her looks managed and curated by various media overlords are on display in Couric's frequent portrayals of herself as an awkward ugly duckling, with what she calls "Campbell's Soup Kid looks." She contrasts herself dramatically with "sleek and sophisticated" Diane Sawyer (as if they weren't basically identical blond women with TV presenter looks). These passages could be read as not-entirely-convincing bids for relatability, and I can imagine them being grating for anyone who is looking to break into TV while not being blond and 125 pounds (Couric mentions this in a tone that makes it clear she thinks this is a high number).
But while she occasionally comes off as clueless or blinkered, it's also harder to blame her for these views when she writes about, for example, CBS releasing a promotional photo of her edited to make her look dramatically thinner, or a media executive saying he never wanted to see her on screen without makeup again. (She had been covering a riot and "[a]s far as I know, they haven't invented tear-gas-proof mascara yet.")
The memoir digs into other "complications and contradictions" as well. Couric is reflective about mistakes she has made in her work: dressing up as a homeless person for a piece of stunt reporting ("I'll be atoning for that piece for the rest of my days."), asking a trans actress clueless and invasive questions about her body, or the ways her coverage focused so much more on victims of crime when they were young white women.
One choice, which has been drawing headlines, involves an interview with the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She asked Ginsburg her views on Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality against Black men. "I think it's dumb and disrespectful," Ginsburg responded. "It's contempt for a government that has made it possible for their parents and their grandparents to live a decent life. Which they probably could not have lived, in the places they came from. ... As they become older they realize that this was a youthful folly. And that's why education is important."
Couric edited out the later part of this exchange, she admits, because she "wanted to protect" Ginsburg. "I lost a lot of sleep over that one and still wrestle with the decision I made," she writes. "If I'd been interviewing Clarence Thomas or Samuel Alito and they said something guaranteed to embarrass them, would I have granted them the same courtesy?" The answer seems an obvious no.
The sections on Lauer feel genuinely pained. "Decent. Kind. Generous. Conscientious. The epitome of a good guy. That's how I always described Matt. My partner in crime," Couric writes. When he was initially accused of sexual misconduct, she wanted to stand by him, texting him supportively, offering to talk. But as more and crueler details emerged, Couric found it impossible to maintain the friendship. "I know Matt thinks I betrayed him, and that makes me sad," she writes. "But he betrayed me, too, by how he behaved behind closed doors at the show we both cared about so much."
Couric works hard to fulfill the promise she made in early pages of Going There, of putting as much of her whole self into the book as she can. But Couric built her reputation on seeming ordinary and relatable, with an "approachable, girl-next-door person" she can't seem to shake even now. She is, in her own words, "a regular girl suddenly catapulted to the highest strata of the New York media world." There's something slightly sad about that description, not only "regular," but also that passive word "catapulted." It's as if nothing is off-limits — except the idea that Couric might hope to be, in some way, exceptional.
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