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Kara: “I think being irritating is the most important muscle skill that any [journalist or entrepreneur] has to have.”
On this episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher, journalist Katie Couric turns the tables on Kara and interviews her for her own podcast, called Katie Couric. The two cover topics including the responsibilities of tech, diversity and the future of work.
You can read a write-up of the interview here or listen to the whole thing in the audio player above. Below, we’ve also provided a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation.
If you like this, be sure to subscribe to Recode Decode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.
Kara Swisher: Recode Radio presents Recode Decode, coming to you from the Vox Media podcast network.
Hi, I’m Kara Swisher, executive editor of Recode. You may know me as the opposite of America’s sweetheart, but in my spare time I talk tech and you’re listening to Recode Decode, a podcast about tech and media’s key players, big ideas and how they’re changing the world we live in. You can find more episodes of Recode Decode on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Play Music or wherever you listen to podcasts. Or just visit Recode.net/podcasts for more.
Today, we’re gonna to do a little something different. That person you found laughing in the background, I’m talking to Katie Couric, who has hosted shows … Katie, is this right? NBC, ABC, CBS and Yahoo.
We’re gonna be discussing … And NatGeo. We’re gonna be discussing our careers in media.
I can’t hold down a job, Kara.
I know, you’re like jumpy with the jobs. Media, technology and so much more. And then the discussion will be posted on both Recode Decode and Katie’s podcast, which has a great name, it’s called Katie Couric.
I know, I don’t name my podcast after me.
I know, I honestly wish I … But everyone encouraged me to just use my name because …
I don’t know.
You’re very famous. I was going to be Kara’s Korner with a K but then no one liked it.
That’s pretty cheesy.
Yeah, it is. And then I was going to open a store along with it. So we’re gonna go back and forth. Apparently, you have lot of questions for me.
I do. I do.
But I’m gonna start with you though. You just got back from the Olympics.
What was your job there? What did you do? You were on NBC.
Back on NBC.
I think they needed a veteran person to host the opening ceremony.
They’re going through those pretty quick.
Singular. Not opening ceremonies, opening ceremony for NBC. So Mike Tirico, who I think has done an incredible job. Kara, I don’t know if you’ve been watching …
He is the new host of the Olympics. Bob Costas decided he had enough and so …
He had a lot of Olympics.
I think because it was Mike’s first rodeo, in a way, covering the Olympic Games, they asked if I would co-anchor the opening ceremony with him, which was really fun. I had done it three times before. I had done it for Salt Lake City, Torino and Athens.
Not Torino, sorry. Salt Lake City, Athens and, shoot where’s the other one that I did?
I thought more global.
That’s all right.
I just thought … Wait, hold on. I did Salt Lake City, Athens and Sydney!
Which was my favorite Olympics of all because I love Australians.
Oh cool. And so how did you like it? What was it like to be back in that Olympic anchor chair? I don’t know what they call it.
Well, it was sort of like riding a bike. It was actually really fun. You know, the thing about the opening ceremony, it’s a whole mix. Obviously, there’s some sports involved and you need to familiarize yourself with the various athletes, but it’s really quite geopolitical and cultural as well, and you want to be knowledgeable about the host country. It’s an opportunity for that country to really strut its stuff and sort of put itself on a world stage.
Right, with the outfits, too.
We had a bit of controversy because our cultural expert made a comment about Japan, which I think was … I don’t think it’s safe to say it was misinterpreted but it was probably a little impolitic. And what’s sad about it is he’s so smart and knowledgeable and incredibly culturally sensitive, so for this to happen was very disappointing.
There’s been a few of those.
It angered a lot of South Koreans because of the Japanese occupation. I think he was maybe overly complimentary about the Japanese and they were very, very … Many people were very, very upset about it. Other than that, and the fact that I made a comment about the Dutch skating on the canals, it went swimmingly. (laughs) Because they all got … I heard from people from The Netherlands who are like, “You’re a moron, we don’t skate on the canals,” but I was trying to salute the rich tradition and why the Dutch are such incredible speed skaters but I think I was sort of … You know how you say you’re five minutes ago, I was like a century ago when I made that assessment.
Yeah, that’s right. Otherwise, there’s not even the slight chance to mess up at these Olympics anymore.
Oh my gosh, it’s so interesting in the age of social media, Kara, as you know, it’s like everything you say gets … People have a voice and they use it and many times that’s really good, and many times it makes it difficult to be a public figure, as you well know.
Well, I don’t care.
I know. I wanna be more like you, Kara. I get my feelings hurt. I’m sensitive, and I’m like, “Oh no,” and then I lose sleep and I get so upset.
But you do a lot of social media. But you do a ton, like the other day there was like soup, you were making soup on social media. What were you making? Stew? Chili?
I actually had a lot of fun with InstaStories.
Right. Yeah okay, explain this because you are on … So you’re one of the few … I wanna go back a little bit. I know you have a million questions for me but I want to go back in your career, cuz you’ve been quite digital compared to most people of the anchor era.
Well, given the fact that I’m a 61-year-old woman, I actually have tried to embrace new technology and I’ve always tried to be a little foreword thinking. And the one thing I am good at, Kara, is I think I have the sixth sense of what is going on in the ether or the zeitgeist and I try to adjust to it accordingly. Sometimes I’m a little ahead of the curve, honestly, but I’ve just tried to understand that the media landscape is changing dramatically. People get their information, consume it in very different ways than they did when I was starting out in the business, and so I’ve just tried to be smart about it.
Because you were on a broadcast just recently, so you’re sort of back to the old big, big engine broadcast that you just power through. How did that feel, because you’ve really been doing digital and much different kind of broadcasting.
Yeah, I mean I’ve still tried to keep my hand in traditional linear television. I’m doing a six-hour series for National Geographic right now.
I did a documentary about transgender issues for NatGeo. So, I’ve kind of tried to be media everywhere, if you will, by iterating content for different platforms, and doing content that’s suitable for various platforms. I mean, that NBC Olympics team, that is a massive machine, and I have to say it was great to have …
The one thing I do miss about not being at a broadcast network is that esprit de corps, you know, that sense that everybody’s kinda working together for … I was going to say for the common good, which I don’t know if you can actually say that in television, which is pretty damn cut-throat. But you feel like there’s this kind of community, this sense of we are all kind of marching in step and rowing together and trying to make our network be the best, and so that was really fun.
Right, rather than being a single player, essentially.
So can you just review … I promise you’ll get to ask me questions.
Good, good, good.
Everyone knows your career. You don’t have to go into your long and storied career, but you were at all the networks. You worked for all of them, which I think is astonishing.
Except for Fox, I never worked for Fox.
There’s a chance still. There’s a chance still you could do it. Do you see it happening?
No, it was so interesting though, Kara, the other night when I was in San Francisco, I decided I’m just going to check out Fox cuz I like to hear what different networks are talking about. I don’t really watch that much television anymore, but I was laying in bed, I was sort of exhausted and I thought I’d turn it on, and you can see why the county’s so divided, because it’s a parallel universe. When you look at the kind of stuff you get on MSNBC versus the perspective you get on Fox from like Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, no wonder there are two Americas, right?
Yeah, absolutely. Well you went right to the belly of the beast there. I can’t watch either. I mean both of them are upsetting on some level, in some way. I think Fox is more upsetting, but they definitely have a different point of view.
Do you feel like it’s … Do you watch it sometimes to get that point of view? Because I think it’s helpful to hear what different people are saying about different topics, but it’s confusing because then you’re like, “Well, who’s right?” And everyone does have their truth now and their perspective and gosh it’s just hard, I think.
Well, one of the things is they … On MSNBC or CNN, one of them, they always have a Trump person on it or someone who’s anti, so you do get those points of view. They always like to make it into … I find it completely, the whole thing reductive and ridiculous.
It is so reductive.
It’s like the movie “Network.”
I feel like nobody’s talking about the big issues. They’re all talking about sort of the latest tweet but nobody’s talking about what are the issues, what are the challenges of immigration reform?
What needs to be done specifically? What’s keeping us from moving ahead? What are some legitimate complaints about illegal immigration? It has become so polarized that I think sometimes people really are not getting the information they need to make smart choices.
I think cable is so attractive in terms of watching it because it’s so easy to watch that it’s … I try not to, I think it deadens the soul. And Fox has perfected it, the others have taken it and done their own versions of it.
Well, it’s affirmation not information, isn’t it?
Yup, 100 percent. And so it just exhausts me. I think cable has done more for ruining our democracy than almost anything, besides the Russians these days.
Phil Griffin and Jeff Zucker on line two for you.
I know, but you know what I mean, that whole … I so think Fox led it, like created the thing. When they try to be more thoughtful it’s really helpful. I think you were come from the era where there were thoughtful broadcasts that you put together every night.
Yeah, and I do think young people are gonna wanna return to that, in a way. I’ve been very heartened to see all those kids in Parkland, Florida, Kara. I was just crushed and devastated for those families. I can barely even talk about it, and to see these young people … That Emma Gonzalez, who gave that speech at that rally, and “We call B.S.,” I felt so proud of them. Because I talked to Mark Barden — who’s a friend of mine, whose son Daniel was killed at Sandy Hook — last night and we were saying, second graders who survive a school shooting can’t really use their voices, their parents are so grief-stricken, understandably, of course, as much as they try, it’s hard. But these kids, they mobilized in a nanosecond. They’re doing a march on Washington and in communities all across the country, and they are like totally mad as hell, and they’re not gonna take it anymore. And I have found that so inspiring.
It’s social media that they’re using, which is really interesting. They’re using the tools that they’re very good at to do it. You can put thoughtful things in these mediums. I mean, it’s such a canard that you don’t have to.
Same thing with cable. Same thing with all of them. You do not have to make it as reductive as it is.
I don’t know … Yeah, why do you think media companies, for so long, clung to that and really …
I guess it’s sort of the M.O. to basically feel that people are too dumb to absorb important substantive information.
Or that they can’t listen for more than a minute. That they can’t …
Well, podcasts is totally … I mean, look at how podcasts are growing, that’s totally disproving that.
Right, 100 percent. When I started my podcast several people, this was years ago, I did it three years ago, and several people who were experts were like, “People won’t listen for an hour.” And I was like, “Well, I’m gonna talk for an hour.” Our whole premise at Recode has always been substance.
It’s so true. And Kara, like my daughter Carrie is a senior in college, and she is so funny. She’s like, “Hey Mom, there was a really good thing on The Daily about North Korea, you need to listen to that.”
Or, “Did you hear? I heard this on NPR.” And it’s so interesting because Carrie will be listening to podcasts while she’s brushing her teeth or washing her face in the morning, and I’m like so proud of her that she is so engaged and it’s with smart material.
But she’s 12th grade so she’s the Gen Z.
No, she’s a senior in college.
Senior in college. Okay, so is she a millennial or is …
I think she’s on the cusp of millennial. I think she’s like a Gen Z/millennial.
I’m gonna make like a huge generalization but I think people use Snapchat and that era, it’s not the Facebook generation, it’s sort of this Snapchat generation.
They are much different in how they use social media. They’re very careful and considered how they do it. They’re less relative. They’re less Twitter-twitchy. They use these mediums very carefully. I have a son who’s 15 and another who’s 13, and they’re both much more careful about how they use it and present themselves and consume the medium. It’s not twitchy.
Let me ask you about Snapchat because I wanna not only talk to you about some of these big media companies and get the latest skinny on it, but I also wanna talk about you, Kara. But first, I know Evan Spiegel had a good quarter. I get all the stuff on my phone, and I know that investors were a little heartened, but it seems like Instagram really took the wind out of his sails.
Yeah, they did.
With Insta Stories, which I’m totally obsessed with, which is actually a sickness which we’ll discuss later. But tell me what’s going on with Snapchat. I know they did a redesign and people were upset about it.
They did. They didn’t like it.
What’s the latest on that?
Yeah, my son texted me, he’s like, “Nobody likes this redesign.” I mean, I think these companies redesign continually, they’re always shifting and changing. And Facebook had 20 ones that people didn’t like so I think they just have to go with the way they wanna do it and hope for the best.
And people will adjust.
Yeah, I don’t obsess on redesigns, unless they’re truly awful, like a new Coke.
You know, something that really doesn’t work. And people get used to the way they’re using these things so I don’t over index on that. That said, they’ve got to be very careful because what happened is years ago Facebook tried to copy … tried to buy Snapchat, first of all. Facebook is essentially their mortal, not their mortal enemy, their killer really. They’re trying to kill of Snapchat. They tried to buy Snapchat and he put it off. He’s a really interesting, in visionary, entrepreneur, Evan Spiegel. I think every time I talk to him, I’m always fascinated, and I can’t say that with everybody I talk to.
And he’s got a big sense of where things are going, and they really do have an advantage in that it’s not a twitchy medium, even though I don’t use it that much and I do know how to use it. But it’s a different … It’s a communications medium, a lot more like WeChat in China, if you ever use that one.
I don’t use WeChat.
But Facebook had just decided to try to kill it, so they tried something, I think it was called Poke or something like that, which is just an awful name for a medium, based on the pokes on Facebook essentially. And that didn’t work and didn’t catch on. And then they used Instagram to do this, to do Instagram Stories. And I had Kevin Systrom, who was the founder of Instagram, on my podcast and he … People complained about it, they basically thought it was shoplifting or plagiarism, in terms of how they borrowed what Snapchat was doing. And he said, look, we are doing the same thing they’re doing but someone invented the car radio, should we not make better car radios? That was his argument, we’re making a better car radio, and good for them for inventing the car radio but too bad.
I think he was saying that the nature of technology is that people build on, just like Jobs and Gates stole … They borrowed the stuff from Xerox Park, the graphical user interface. It happens and happens again, and I think the problem for Snapchat is that Facebook can just roll, eventually will get it right just like Microsoft did a million times on a bunch of other tech companies.
So, what does that mean for Evan Spiegel and Snapchat and how does Instagram compare?
Well, he’s so creative, that’s the issue, I think … And so is Kevin Systrom, by the way, who runs Instagram. But I think it’s hard, I think it’s super hard to compete. I mean, the era of big tech companies now is really here. I was talking to someone the other day, a venture capitalist named Sarah Tavel, and she said it’s really hard to make innovative companies anymore because … And there will be innovative companies, it’s not gonna never stop, but the powerful companies Apple, Google, Facebook …
And Amazon, it just creates like a really difficult … And they’re buying up companies and they’re being innovative and iterative themselves and so it makes it super hard for small companies to break in.
Facebook has gotten a lot of bad press lately, obviously.
Yes, they have.
About Russia and about all kinds of things. So can you just catch me up on what’s happening at Facebook and what do you think the outcome is gonna be of a lot of this criticism?
Well, you know it’s interesting, you don’t follow Twitter that carefully, but I had debate with Facebook executives this weekend on Twitter.
Oh that must have been fun. I’m gonna have to go back and check that out.
They lost. They lost. It’s gone. It’s gone, Katie.
Here’s what they did. They’re very sensitive. First of all, they did a very slow roll about the uses of their platform by Russia in terms of initially last year, Mark Zuckerberg said there was no impact whatsoever.
But they said that again, even recently, right?
Yeah, they do.
They didn’t sway the election, which is an unknowable thing to conclude.
Unknowable, yes. Well, they just keep saying it …
If they say it, it’ll be so.
It’s like Trump, right? They just keep saying, the crowds were bigger, the crowds were bigger, the crowds were bigger.
I think one of the things is they’re very technical and mathematical people and so they’re being very accurate about certain things they’re saying and focusing in and missing the forest through the trees.
Isn’t a lot of this stuff unquantifiable?
Some of it is. Some of it is, but I think the overall issue is that they’re technically saying, these ads were not run … These ads weren’t, they weren’t talking about the content on the platform, it’s so much larger and bigger than they’re discussing. But technically their ads were bought at various times and so their whole premise around this is that these ads didn’t sway the election, and everyone else is like, well there’s an indictment by Robert Mueller that shows how they used primarily Facebook and Instagram to really invade the system and take advantage of the system. And I liken it to, if you think about what if Russia had bought all the advertisements on a network or run the content of a network during a presidential election and swayed it.
They don’t wanna take responsibility for the fact that their platform was used by a malevolent power to create discord in our country, and that doesn’t seem to bother them as much as technically our ads weren’t bought until here. The platforms were used and abused because it’s sort of like, why would you rob a bank, that’s where the money is, that’s where the people are. And so these platforms — Facebook being the biggest one — have been much abused by malevolent powers.
So what’s gonna happen, when you think about Facebook, Kara, and you think about, say, YouTube, which has also had a lot of problems with pornography and inappropriate content and advertisers are now shying away from that, what is the solutions for these companies, when the genie is out of the bottle?
I just had a long interview with Susan Wojcicki at one of our events earlier this week, actually, who’s the CEO of YouTube, very thoughtful person. And I just had her on an MSNBC show …
I really like her.
She’s great. She’s great. But I mean, they’re trying really hard because they know these platforms are massive. I think it’s a trillion hours a week or something, it’s some enormous number that’s being uploaded to YouTube and all these social media platforms and so the ability of them to monitor it, is enormous. Obviously, people can’t do it. It’s not feasible for people to do it, it’s not scalable.
And then secondly, the technology around AI and other machine learning in order to maybe control this better is still in its infancy and very problematic. So they’re trying to figure out how to maintain order, I guess, and at the same time pretend they’re not media companies. And so when I interview them I do a lot of, “Well, are you a media company?” “No, we’re …” I think Susan was like, “No, we’re a technology platform whose end result is media,” or it was some really convoluted way of saying …
Why do you think they’re so reticent to kind of admit?
Because it requires responsibility. That means they’re responsible. The New York Times cares if it’s wrong, right? Whatever people think of the New York Times or whatever, the liberal media or whatever. You know, working at any of these institutions, we care when we’re wrong, we say we’re wrong, we correct and it matters. There’s a great deal of heaviness to the responsibility.
Well, they say they’re the pipes, they’re not the stuff that goes through it, right?
Right. Even as they ruin the business plans of every publisher, you know what I mean. It’s a different kind of media company, but they’re a media company. But the minute they admit they’re a media company, it means they have responsibility for what’s on their platform. And there’s lots of laws why they don’t want that to happen, too. They wanna just say they’re a benign platform, essentially.
Do you think that’s ever going to change? How do you see this all …
No, I don’t think that there will be any regulation. There’s always talk about it, and obviously … I’m interviewing Cory Booker and others, the Democrats are suddenly, which were the friend of media, the friends of the internet, are now turning on the internet.
Which is interesting. And so we’ll see if the Democrats get in power if there’s more regulation, but so far the U.S. and where most of this is taking place, is toothless. Europe, on the other hand, there’s a woman named Margrethe Vestager who’s been very tough on all the big media companies in Europe.
Who is she?
She’s a commissioner at the EU, I think it’s for competition, I forget her long title, but she’s … I did a great podcast and interview with her. She’s really an interesting force and she’s the one that’s levied all these fines on these companies and really has the teeth to really bother them in these countries. And I think the European Union and Europe has a very different point of view on privacy, on abuse, on all kinds of things that is problematic for the U.S. tech companies. But in the U.S., they roll over, everybody rolls over. And obviously, ort tweeter in chief, our troll in chief, Donald Trump is using the medium to his own advantage.
But when we get back … We gotta break for a commercial and when we get back we’re gonna go real deep with you and me, Katie.
Okay, sounds good.
All right. We’re here with Katie Couric. She and I are doing a co-podcast and when we get back we’re gonna talk about our careers. I have to ask you questions about Yahoo and more.
We’re here with Katie Couric, we’re doing a joint discussion.
This is so fun.
Is it fun?
I feel like we’re having lunch and just hanging out.
Nobody knows this, but we like each other, Katie Couric, don’t we?
Yes, we do, Kara Swisher. I admire you, I like you. I think you’re really smart, really funny and really good at what you do. So speaking of that, how did you get into this crazy business? I know you went to Georgetown. You started writing for your school newspaper.
No, I didn’t. I did not write for my school, at Georgetown.
Oh, you called the Washington Post to bitch them out about an article, which made me laugh.
Cuz you thought that they did a bad job covering something at Georgetown.
Yeah, I did. I was mad at them for a piece on, I’ll date myself, Roberto d’Aubuisson, do you remember him?
From Nicaragua, the awful killer of women and children in Nicaragua, he led the death squads.
I thought it was irresponsible. They didn’t do a good job covering him, so I was kinda pissed about it.
Well, you know what I thought was really interesting about that story, Kara? I don’t remember the editor to whom you spoke.
It’s Larry Kramer.
Larry Kramer. Not the Larry Kramer.
Well, it’s the Larry Kramer in journalism. He’s now a USA Today publisher, I think.
Oh that’s right, okay. Wait, who’s the other Kramer?
The playwright? Playwright Larry Kramer.
No, not the playwright. The guy at MSNBC.
Oh! I don’t know, there’s so … Larry Kudlow.
No, no the guy who screams all the time.
Oh, Kramer, Jim Kramer.
Jim Kramer, sorry. I was getting him mixed up with Jim Kramer. So Larry Kramer, which I really thought was cool, said, “Come in and talk to me about it.” Now if he hadn’t done that, do you think you would have gotten into journalism anyway?
That’s a good question. Yes, I was. I was already really writing a lot. Yes, 100 percent.
I think getting that break to go to Washington Post was a big deal, and it was a big deal because you know how it elevates you when you go. Where did you start? You started out at like a small …
I started at ABC News in Washington getting out Frank Reynold’s ham sandwiches, making coffee and passing our Xeroxes of the rundown.
Guess what I did, I delivered mail. You know that. And you know what was really interesting about working from the beginning is, I was in the mail room and I did night news aide and things like that at the Washington Post when I was younger, when I was in college, was that you understand the dynamics of politics of a newsroom much better from a lower rung. I don’t know if you did. I learned that really talented people weren’t quite as difficult as the less talented people.
Yeah, I don’t know if I learned that, but I did learn through osmosis, just kind of how a newsroom worked. I think it sort of feeds your curiosity. You watch people who you admire, who you think are good, who are tough, and I also think it makes you think, “Hey, if they can do it, I can do it, cuz they’re not that great.”
Right, exactly. I think you probably did the same thing, I took every opportunity I got. Every time someone handed me a chance I took it and like, oh, “Someone go to the Smithsonian to write about this dumb rock collection story,” and I just said, “I’ll do it.” “I’ll do it” was my …
Definitely. Right, say yes to everything. I know I did this book of advice a few years ago where I just asked people to write essays, sort of the secrets of their success cuz I thought it’d be a nice graduation present. And I gave all the money to Scholarship of America, which gives underserved kids an opportunity to go to college. And that’s what Ryan Seacrest said, of all people, he said, “Say yes to everything.” And I think that is a really important and a valuable piece of advice for people starting out. Don’t you, Kara?
Yeah, I do, absolutely. I think one of the things … It was more than yes, I didn’t just say yes, I just literally would do whatever, that kind of thing.
I think one of the things … I was talking to someone the other day, they were like, “What do you regret?” and I’m like, “I didn’t really travel.” I went right to work, like I worked, I think you probably did the same thing. I didn’t really take time off. I didn’t go and find myself in Thailand.
I know. Well for me, work is like oxygen.
I have to work, and I know you feel the same way and I’m wondering, I didn’t realize, I feel like I know a lot about you, but I don’t think I knew that your dad died when you were just 5 years old.
And he had a cerebral hemorrhage.
Yeah, and he was how old, Kara?
34 years old, which is so heartbreaking. And that was the age that Ellie was when Jay died, my late husband. Do you remember your dad?
You know it’s funny, I do in bits and pieces and I don’t know how much she does … A lot of people whose parents die at a young age are, it’s something called highly functional, because they become … half their life goes away, really, if you think about it. If you’re 5 you don’t have much reference to other friends and family and things, you reference your parents pretty much. And so you get highly functional because the worst thing in the world happened to you and you survived.
I think a lot of people, kids whose parents died at a young age, become one, they work, they just move faster because they realize the ephemerality of life, and then at the same time they can deal with things, things don’t bother them that much, both negative and positive. You wanna be bothered by certain things in life, but you definitely roll on through.
Is your mom still living?
Yes, she is, oh yeah, she’s in Mexico City right now.
Do you worry about her a lot? Cuz the one thing I noticed, and I had talked with Carrie, my younger daughter about this, because Ellie was at such a formative age, Carrie was just 2 and Ellie I guess was 6, had turned 6, and she gets a lot of anxiety about me because I’m her only parent. Do you feel that way about your mom?
No, I don’t. My mom drives me nuts.
I’m sorry. I’m sorry.
No, we’re an Italian family so no, I do not worry about her. She loves her Fox News so let me just say, so that’s been a great time this past couple of years.
Oh, interesting. Do you guys not talk about politics at the Thanksgiving table?
Oh my god, she never shuts up. I had to throw her out of Thanksgiving once cuz she voted for Rick Santorum, but that’s a long story.
She said he wouldn’t because he was for anti-gay stuff, and I said, “You can’t vote for him and continue to have Thanksgiving [here].”
Where does she live?
In New York City, and everywhere. She’s in Mexico City right now, I think.
She like an Auntie Mame kind of person. Yeah, Fox has poisoned her brain completely. But she’s okay, she’s pretty funny. You’d like her, Katie. She’s fun …
She sounds fun. We’ll have to take her to lunch or something.
We’ll take her to lunch.
Not talk about politics too much.
Oh she doesn’t like Trump so much, but she likes Fox News, oddly she can’t stand Trump.
Wait, I want to do a little more of your career stuff. So after the Washington Post … I mean, you are such a force, Kara, and you’re sort of the most well liked and feared, I’ve read that a million places, journalists covering in Silicon Valley. How did you get so interested in covering technology?
The tech? I covered Steve Case from AOL. I was here in Washington at the Washington Post and I covered the internet early, early on when there was AT&T interchange and all this other stuff. So I was super struck by the internet from a very early age. Washington Post had a phone I’d use, a big old heavy one, it was in a suitcase. I was riveted that there was going to be a mobile phone for some reason. That was stuck in …
Did you have one of those Maxwell Smart car phones that looked like a shoe box?
It was not in my car but it was suitcase that I brought in my car that the phone’s in. And then I had one of the other phones that looked like those big ones. I’ve had phones forever. I was one time on a vacation with someone I was going out with, and I was in the middle of the bay in Provincetown, it was low tide and so I could walk out pretty far, and I was like, “It works out here!” And I think they broke up with me right then.
Yeah, no. I just went on a vacation to Mexico with Nellie and it was supposed to be without any internet or anything else and of course, I managed to find a cellular connection somewhere.
You managed to find the one square foot where your phone reception would come in.
I did hike up the giant hill to get there, but whatever. It’s details, Katie.
Do you worry about tech addiction? Because that’s something that I am worried about, not only for myself but for people in general.
Yes, that’s another big issue with these internet companies.
I see my daughters … One of the hours I’m doing for NatGeo — shameless plug — is talking about, is technology making us lose our humanity? Because it is really changing, dramatically changing the nature of our relationships.
And one thing I heard, Kara, from an internet expert, an addiction expert out in California I interviewed, Larry Rosen, he said that kids are actually developing plague in their brain because phones and screen time is actually interrupting the melatonin in their brain and increasing cortisol, and they’re very, very worried about early dementia among these addicted kids, which was enough to freak me out.
Oh my goodness. Katie, that’s terrible.
I’m sorry to break the news to you.
So I’m completely demented right now then. It’s nothing to joke about. I agree, I think it’s going to be a big topic this year. People talk about this and again, this is the next wave that hits the companies like Facebook.
Definitely. And you hear more people making noise. One of the guys I interviewed, Tristan Harris … I love him, Kara. He’s such a remarkable young man. He’s 33 years old, he quit Google, because … Was it Google?
Yeah, Google. He was at Google.
Yeah, because he felt like these internet companies or tech companies are manipulating us so much, and they’re making us addicted by …
They’re also taking, same theme, not taking responsibility for what they’re doing. And so one of the things … People are likening him, I mean media companies are likening to cigarette companies. I think that’s taking it slightly too far, but there is a question of how much warning people should have, how much knowing, how much science needs to happen around this stuff.
I feel like nobody’s really … That’s one of the reasons I wanted to do this hour, we’re operating and it’s like minute by minute, and nobody I think in the media culture takes a step back and says, wait a second, let’s take a look at some of these big issues. Because I think this is such an incredibly transformational time in almost every arena. But nobody is sort of debating it or talking about it.
Well they don’t want to. These internet companies don’t want to do that because I think what they’ve been doing is growing at breakneck speed, and one of the things I started to do last year, right when they went to visit Trump, you remember that? They all trooped up to Trump Tower.
And didn’t say anything about immigration. And I wrote one of these scold, scold columns about it, talking about, how dare you do this without discussing immigration. This guy had been so anti-immigrant, which is has been the fuel for Silicon Valley essentially, immigrants. All the major companies founded by immigrants: Elon Musk, Sergey Brin, Satya Nadella, Steve Job’s father was an immigrant, Susan Wojcicki’s father is from another country. So I was really angry at them for doing that, for walking up there.
And they’re like, “Oh well, he doesn’t mean what he says.” I’m like, “He means what he says around this topic cuz he said it so many times, it was one of his basic promises to his constituency.” So I think what they want to do is sort of act as if they’re the saviors of humanity and take no responsibility for what their inventions create.
And tech addiction is just one of the many, and at some point you do … Like I get a lot of pushback, this past year was like, “You’re such a scold,” and I’m like, “No, you need to grow up and start to understand,” not just tech addiction, but job displacement, like what’s gonna happen around AI and automation.
Can we talk about that, too?
Cuz that’s something I address in this hour. 38 percent of jobs are susceptible to automation, eliminating them by the early 2030s. I know you did a town hall series with MSNBC about that and with jobs in the future. This is something that I’ve been really interested in because these jobs are not being lost to globalization, they’re being lost to automation.
It’s a huge dilemma and I think it’s actually part of what’s feeding white, working-class frustration, another hour I’m doing on NatGeo. So what is the solution here?
I don’t know because I got the inspiration for doing that series for NBC from Marc Andreessen who have been arguing with for decades and how … He and I argue about all kinds of things. But one of the things he was talking about was that it’s like farming to manufacturing condition.
It definitely is.
Except that happened over 70-some years and it was a huge political uprising because of it, and now in this age of social media and also constant and repeated media everywhere, and people’s feeling so apart from each other and so partisan. It’s a powder keg, as far I can tell.
You really created a situation … You know, Steve Case has talked about this. J.D. Vance’s great book “Hillbilly Elegy.” There is a massive transition about to happen around jobs that people are not paying attention to and I don’t want to be one of those …
Joan Williams also wrote a great book based on a Wall Street Journal piece that … No, Harvard Business Review article just called “White Working Class.” Which talks a lot about cultural, class cluelessness and cultural condescension and all this stuff. I highly recommend.
Who is thinking of it? I don’t wanna say like, there’s not gonna be better jobs in the future, but what are we gonna do about it? One of the things that … Nellie just interviewed Robert Reich, who was the former Labor Secretary.
I love him.
And one of the things that he said in this interview, they did a New York Times thing on AI, it was an event, and one of the things that was the best quote that came out of it was, she was asking about universal basic income — which is you pay people, essentially, when jobs get lost, and it’s very controversial. It feels like communism a little bit. It’s questionable, but it’s one of the ideas of how to deal with this joblessness, eventual joblessness. He said, you either pay them, these numbers to pay people to not work, essentially, or you’re gonna pay to bulletproof your Tesla. And I was like, oh wow, that’s … You’re gonna create this sort of Brazil-like situation where there’s very poor and very rich.
My question is, who’s thinking about it? Who among our … Is it the tech companies? Whose responsibility is it, the tech companies? The government? Is it citizens?
I think it’s all of the above, but you’re right, it’s very frustrating that people are kind of like, just have their head in the sand about this. Zoe Baird is working very hard on this thing called Skillful, and she’s working with Governor Hickenlooper in Colorado, to try to come up with a way to retrain especially displaced workers.
But I think our whole education system needs to be reevaluated. I went to Johnstown, Pennsylvania, where 50 percent of the high school students are involved in vocational training, and I just think that we have to really, everybody has to put their thinking caps on.
And where it’s going, because some of these jobs … There’s a great story in the New York Times recently about Sweden, that robots are doing mining, essentially.
Why should people … Like this whole thing about Kentucky going back to coal mining, people probably shouldn’t coal mine. It’s very dangerous. There’s certain jobs, rote jobs, that maybe people shouldn’t do anymore.
And it wasn’t good for people in the first place so why just have them there when robots can it better?
But I think what’s hard, Kara, is these are generational, traditional jobs that have been passed on. It’s part of certain people’s DNA, so we have to help rethink their whole thinking. We have to rethink education, rethink all the different possibilities and how for the get-go, from pre-K on, we start orienting people towards the job of the future. Thank you.
Thank you, President Couric. But they can’t even decide on lunch. They can’t pass a Dreamers Act. The Dreamers Act thing is just driving me crazy because it’s literally an advertisement to the rest of the world that we don’t like innovation. We don’t like innovative people, we don’t like people who work harder. It’s such a message to the rest of the world, which again, the technology and the innovation in this country’s been fueled by immigrants. No matter how you slice it, people coming in, fresh ideas, fresh thinking.
And also hard working.
The scrappy people who have something to prove, I mean those are the people who change the world, not people who, pardon the expression, are born with the silver spoon in their mouth, like many people we know.
Right, and the problem is, I think one of the things … We can get into diversity in the next section, but I do need to talk to you about Yahoo.
Okay, we’ll talk about that, but I also want to talk to you about like how you’re able to get so many people to talk to you and how you stay in the business without pissing people so many people off, they never talk to you again.
Well I’m about to piss everyone off, I think. At the end of my career is going to be one big disaster.
Really? You’re just gonna go out like …
I’m gonna go like a Roman candle, Katie. I’m going out big and ugly.
To finish up this section I think is, what I think about when I think about these ideas about not accepting people in this country, and keeping open borders and things like that to do this, including around the issues of diversity too, like not thinking bigger … I have this vision in my head of a small girl in Afghanistan who knows how to solve cancer, it’s in her brain, who’s gonna be the one who does it, who will never get there because of all kinds of issues, whether immigration or discrimination or whatever. We don’t know who hasn’t been able to invent things because of the barriers we put in people’s way that we could remove and create a better place. And I know it sounds like pie in the sky, but the more barriers we put in front of people to be innovative, the less humanity benefits.
I agree with you 100 percent, and I do think the internet is helping remove some of those barriers in terms of giving people a pathway to education and exposing them to ideas that they’d never be exposed to otherwise.
Right, well, we’re gonna talk about that more because you talked to James Damore and others for one of the pieces that I was talking on.
Anyway, we’re here with Katie Couric, we are talking about all kinds of things. We’re jumping from thing to thing but that’s why we’re so fascinating to everybody, including ourselves.
When we get back we’re gonna talk about Katie’s time at Yahoo and how I’m gonna go out in a giant cloud of something. Anyway, when we get back.
Okay, we’re here with Katie Couric. We’ve been talking about a range of things. Katie, obviously, is the famous, most famousist anchor person.
No, I’m not.
Yes, you are. You’ve worked for every network and Yahoo. You’re gonna tell me, Yahoo. Katie, what happened?
Well, I think it was a really interesting experience. I think that the real issue is that many of these tech companies … I mean, it was what were talking about earlier, they are not media companies, they do not care deeply about stories, about content, about true connection. I think they care about widgets and gadgets and delivery systems, but they aren’t really super interested in the vegetable soup that’s running through the pipes.
And I think it, for me, was just a bit of a culture clash. I think that the problems, the challenges of making sure people got good content was just not high on their priority list.
Right, so when you went in you were thinking what? You had been at these … you had left ABC.
Well, I thought … Yeah, I saw the world changing. I saw people consuming information. I saw this pipeline whether … Direct disintermediation, or using these pipes to reach people, was something that was incredibly promising and I thought Yahoo, I said to Marissa Mayer, I said, “Do you want to be known as the company who serves up stories about the boy who lived on Ramen noodles for 13 years or do you wanna kinda have really important, interesting, substantive interviews? Do you want to educate and enlighten people? Do you want to raise the bar?” And it doesn’t mean you can’t have the Ramen noodle story, but you could maybe do a high-low thing, like they do in fashion.
You wear a sweater from Bergdorf’s and jeans from J.Crew. So she seemed to be open, but I don’t think she ever sort of understood the commitment that would take and I just think she had a lot of other things on her plate, in fairness. And so I wouldn’t say it was an unhappy marriage, but it certainly wasn’t very fulfilling for me because I had all this content, I was getting big interviews.
And it was sort of like a tree falling in the forest.
Because they didn’t put it on the front page or what was …
Well, they didn’t put it on the front page or they didn’t really know … Even now they really don’t have very good distribution. They didn’t really know how to market things properly. They didn’t really know how to take quality and make it scalable.
And at one point, you were paying for Facebook ads, is that correct? To get your stuff out there?
No, no, no. I wasn’t paying. I did bring someone in who was really an expert on micro targeting because I would say to him, “How can my stuff get seen more?” And I would say to the Yahoo folks, “Can we please do a newsletter, I’ll totally push out everybody’s content, I’ll make sure everyone sees Matt Bai’s column or I’ll make sure that people see Joe Zee’s fashion thing.”
Yeah, because they hired a lot of people.
Yeah, they hired some big names and yet they were in the witness protection program. So I said, “Let me help you, help them, help us, help everybody.”
I don’t know, maybe it’s because they were kind of at that time — and are — a legacy tech company that they had kind of lost their mojo to innovate, I think in way.
No, it’s an attitude throughout tech. The content doesn’t matter.
They talk about it.
They have no respect for content.
It’s not even no respect.
Not even that. It’s really weird. It’s like, oh, it’s just another thing they’re pushing through the system, essentially. It doesn’t matter.
I think the secret sauce are people who are technologically savvy but also respect and care about storytelling, and the company that I think combines those two things is gonna win the day. And I haven’t really found it yet, have you? Well, I guess Vox, in a way.
We try to, but we don’t own the pipes. I do think sometimes, when I talk to Evan Spiegel, I do think well at least he gets the concepts around it. Like the idea that you differentiate or you curate, and I think that’s the question is, the curation. And I think one of the things that I’ve found fascinating from your tenure at Yahoo, besides all the other things I was writing about there, was they made this enormously high-profile hire — and you are. It was a big giant hire that they made. And then they literally hid you anywhere they could put you.
It was so weird, right?
As a business proposition, it’s not like I’m all that and a bag of chips, but if you are going to invest in somebody like me, who has a quote-unquote brand, which — I hate that — but who is recognizable and who has a connection with people, why not leverage that? It was bizarre.
I don’t think they meant it in the first place.
No, no, no.
It was just a thing. They never intended to do it, but it sounded good.
It was like a good press release but it was sort of …
But they hired a lot of people so it was more than … It was something. You know what I mean? That was what was interesting, the whole … It was sort of a side-light and I don’t think it was as cynical as a press release. I think they thought they wanted it …
No, I think you’re right. I think they just didn’t understand what it required, and I would try to say, “Hey, let me bring this person in to run media, who really gets it,” and they just … I don’t know, it was strange.
So you left because why? Cuz then it had changed, Marissa was taking …
I just didn’t see them shifting their attitudes and at some point …
Even under Oath? I just interviewed Tim Armstrong.
I like Tim, I think he’s great. I told him I thought the new name of the company should be Rize, R-I-Z-E, cuz it’s sort of like Verizon, and it’s aspirational and positive.
Oh I like that, Katie Couric. That’s a great name.
I think they paid a lot of money to come up with Oath, whatever. But anyway, so I think these companies are, maybe they’ll wake up and smell the coffee but I think they’re just very lumbering and slow. And so at some point, ironically, but at some point you want to do quality work and make sure that someone values what you do and makes sure that they hopefully want to get it out into the world. Which is increasingly fragmented, by the way.
Two questions though, Netflix just paid Ryan Murphy …
Right, 300 million dollars.
And Shonda Rhimes has a similar deal.
Obviously Apple just invested in a Reese Witherspoon thing that’s very expensive.
Based on morning television.
Exactly, it’s all about … It’s gonna be a Katie Couric character.
Not about me, I don’t think.
But you could consult for sure, you seem to know a thing or two about that. When you look at all that, though, they are moving rather heavily into that space.
They are. I think right now, I think that they are not super jazzed about moving into a more news space, maybe ultimately they will be, but right now I think they’re really focused on scripted content, and super kind of impactful buzzy stuff. I think in a news landscape, where there is so much content everywhere … I don’t know about you, Kara, but I read so many articles on my phone and I’m like, “Where did I read that? What was that? How did I know that?”
And it’s disconnected from the brand.
It feels very confusing but I think you’re right. I think the landscape is continually changing and iterating, as they say, and it will be interesting to see. But the most important thing is how are we gonna keep people informed and engaged in the world around them? I do think from what I said earlier, that a lot of young people, Gen Z, whatever you call it, millennials, really are engaged, but we have to continue to think about how we’ll continue to keep people engaged, you know? Because it’s so important to a democracy.
I know. What would you do right now if you were young? I mean you already …
If I were young?
Let me just say, everybody, Katie Couric is the hardest-working woman and we were having dinner and literally she was getting on … You were getting on a night flight, where were you going? You were going to like Alabama or somewhere. We’re like, “Katie Couric can rest.”
I know. I just love to work.
We’re like, “Katie Couric can take a minute.”
I don’t know why. My husband thinks I’m insane.
Yeah, and I work hard and I think you’re insane.
I know. I do feel like I have find to find a better balance. But what would I do if I was starting out in the business now?
I don’t know. At one point I’m like, “You did that Sarah Palin interview, you can retire now.”
I know, but I like to be engaged in the world.
I get it.
I like to be talking to interesting people.
Everyone’s saying, “What would you do if you were young?” What are you interested in now?
Interested in now?
Yeah, cuz look, broadcast is sort of shifting so dramatically and you tried the Yahoo thing. Although, that doesn’t mean that that didn’t work. But where were you looking at or where would you go?
I think I’d like to try something more entrepreneurial, because I think there’s never been a better time. If you talk about disintermediation … I do a lot on Instagram because I feel a real connection to people who follow me on Instagram, it feels a little less sort of cosmic than Twitter. I feel it’s more community based, and I think that’s a really interesting outlet to experiment in and try different things.
I’d like to do something that really, at this point in my career, shines a light on other young up-and-coming, especially female journalists, diverse journalists, people who represent all different points of view. Because the one thing we’ve seen, Kara, so clearly is, certainly in broadcast, that is it still a male bastion. It’s still, all the decision makers are primarily white men, and we have to start changing that. And how do you change it? Well, you give women an experience and a chance to shine.
Obviously, media’s been the focus of a lot of the #MeToo stuff, more than any … I was talking to someone the other day, there’s a lot of it in tech but it really has been focused on media, including places you’ve worked.
When you see that happened did you just become inured to it? Like, “Ugh, this is the way it is”?
I have to say, personally, I did not deal with a lot of that. I don’t know whether I’m just imminently inharassable, but I was very lucky. Every now and then someone would make a comment or it would be a little fratty but I think I’m kind of like you, I would roll my eyes or give it right back. And so I think culturally, it’s just been such a shift in what is acceptable and what is unacceptable.
But having said that, I’ve been the beneficiary of having a pretty powerful job and I would try to set the right tone in a work environment. Having said that, I think I’m sure it was jocularity bordered on too much, kind of, boy’s humor.
Yeah, I think about what did I allow that I shouldn’t have.
I don’t really feel that way. Some people have said, “Well, how did you not know what was going on?” I think there was also this feeling of privacy and people do things and you’re not monitoring behavior in people’s spare time, you don’t know about it. And I have a totally clear and clean conscious about the way I comported myself and any responsibility that I bear for people’s bad behavior.
Yeah, that’s hard, because I think what happens is, one of the things I’ve noticed at least in Silicon Valley and talking to people, is that people let things go. I think about how you become, again, inured to it, you get this stuff all the time and then you live in the environment and then …
And some of it is so subtle, Kara.
Absolutely, they’re called microaggressions in Silicon Valley.
I think that one of the things that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention is sort of very subtle sexism that’s marginalizing and dismissive and undervalues people’s accomplishments and intelligence and ability to contribute, and it’s this very subtle thing that, you can’t go to necessarily HR about it but you feel it intensely. And I have experienced that.
It’s really interesting when I … I just finished the Tina Brown book about her tenure at Vanity Fair, which I thought was fantastic.
Yeah, I haven’t read it yet, I’m going to.
Oh you’ve got to read it, it’s hysterical and beautifully written, and very funny and very raw.
She’s so brilliant.
Brilliant. But I was just thinking, people have a vision of her that’s really not very nice, like tough ball-busting lady editor kind of thing.
I’m so over that. I am so over that.
Exactly. I was like, she changed magazines in two, not one but two, and she had some rockier times at Daily Beast and Talk and stuff like that, but her accomplishments were massive when you start to realize it, the impact on magazines.
And the kind of image she has is so … Any man who did that … It made me furious when I was reading. I was thinking, this person still has sort of a reputation among some, which is like, “Oh, what a tough bitch she is.” That kind of thing. And I’m like, “Whoa wait a minute, she did a lot and why is that her image?”
Well, you know I think that’s why it’s so important to have women in leadership positions. When I anchored the “CBS Evening News” I would call writers out and say, “Why are you describing Hillary Clinton that way? Would you describe a male candidate that way?”
I just had that happen to me.
Or, “Why can’t we do a story on X, Y and Z?” Things that my male counterparts would never in a million years imagine.
Why should it be you that does it? Why does it have to be a woman? I did the same thing when I interviewed Hillary Clinton last year at Code, one of the anchors I was telling you was like, “She was strident.” And I’m like, “What word did you just use?” And this was on the air, and they’re like … I said, “Strident is a word you only use for hysterical women.”
It’s true. And how about shrill?
And I’m like, “She was tough.”
How about that being taken out of our vocabulary. Do you ever … And hey, how about perky.
I was called perky.
Yeah, you get a lot of perky.
I am very outgoing and I’m friendly and I’m very upbeat, but are men ever called perky? No. I feel like it’s a demeaning, marginalizing description of somebody and I don’t like it.
Also when you shifted, I think you did shift though, you were a much more complex person than “perky Katie,” you know what I mean?
That’s the thing, I think that people don’t …
People didn’t like it.
People don’t like, they don’t wanna acknowledge that people are multidimensional, they wanna put them in a box and say they are X, Y and Z. And I think nuance has been lost in our current discourse and hasn’t really existed in a very long time and it’s just very easy to stereotype people.
We were at Vanity Fair and I was talking about your salary and I was thrilled you got the big salary you got at Yahoo, someone was sort of saying, “Oh, that’s a lot of money.” I’m like, “Who cares? She got the money.” And you yelled from the audience, “That’s right, Swisher,” or something like that, but in this sort of growl, and it was fantastic. And everyone was like, “Is that Katie Couric?” And I was like, “Yes that is Katie Couric, she wants the money.”
Well I think women especially … I mean, think about it: Morning television, you have to be nice. And I think, luckily, I think of myself as a nice person, but you have to fulfill these expectations and roles and it’s very hard to navigate as a woman, this kind of being this tough, but not too tough. Being challenging but not too challenging. Not having an opinion, being palatable and pleasant in the morning, You have to be like the breakfast smoothie. And it’s hard, it’s really hard.
I like the breakfast smoothie.
I think I stole that from Tom Brokaw, who described Matt as that once.
Not anymore. What smoothie would you be? Like, oh my goodness, you’d be an interesting smoothie. But it’s true, I think that’s what interesting is that if you don’t fulfill their expectations of you …
One of the hours I’m doing for NatGeo, and again I’ve been thinking about all these and the only reason I bring it up is because you’re in this hour and you’re fantastic. It’s about gender inequality and Hollywood and Silicon Valley. And I talk to a woman at Harvard who studies implicit bias, and you and I talked about this, Kara.
I don’t think it’s implicit.
Because companies that consider themselves a meritocracy are the least meritocratic of anyone because they don’t acknowledge their innate biases. And I think we are so programmed to see men and women in a certain way that it’s actually reinforced by all the messaging we get in commercials and the objectification of women, the hypersexualization of women.
I had to think, when this whole #MeToo was exploding, the Victoria’s Secret fashion show was on CBS and I was like, “No wonder women are confused, no wonder everybody is confused.”
Right, but then you have the backlash. And you interviewed James Damore for that, right? Or others, you went to one of his … You told me, “I’m going to this party.”
I went to a cookout.
Yeah. I was like …
They were serving sausages.
Of course they were. There’s sausages everywhere where I work, Katie. Everywhere I go, sausage fest is everything.
It was interesting.
That was the name of my memoir, was “Sausage Fest.” But it’s true, it’s so true. But what was interesting when you were talking about that was that … I loved that you were open to hearing them, because one of the things in Silicon Valley right now, Peter Thiel has to move because he can’t be conservative.
Which, oh come on. Come on. Come on.
Yeah, let’s discuss that.
All right, we only have a few minutes. Oh come on. It just … Please. I just don’t even know what to say. This is a person who is a victimizer that acts like a victim, typical. This guy sued a company out of business, he’s got billions of dollars, he’s got all kinds of things at his disposal. And he gets to speak up, he gets to give speeches, he gets to … You know what I mean? And he’s still a victim? He has …
Let me ask you something, Kara. In terms of policy discussion, do you believe that in certain circles that a conservative point of view is actually heard at all and there can be an open conversation with people of differing opinions?
I think some places are conservative and some places aren’t. I can’t operate in certain parts of the country either, in certain companies. Companies have their point of view, and I think a lot of these companies pretend they don’t, cuz when you have to say your values, you have to argue about them, right?
Values is what you argue about. I had this really interesting time at YouTube, I went there to talk to them and they were talking about how it used to be all squirrel videos and nice things and now they have a college ethical debate every day, whether it’s Logan Paul or whatever. And on some level I’m like, “Well, that’s what it’s about, having values, you have to state your values.” And I don’t think they can …
I’m gonna have a podcasting guy who’s doing all these polls on conservatives. They don’t get to talk. It is a liberal environment. It is, it just is. These companies are more tolerant. Tech has been more tolerant and these are their values. So I don’t know if you can’t talk, cuz I’m sorry, these people have so many opportunities to talk. I googled, there’s like 900 places to talk and all kinds of opportunities, but I think once you say something that’s not in their value system, maybe it’s not a place you need to work.
Or maybe you should work somewhere else. As a gay person, you couldn’t be gay. You couldn’t, and of course that ended up being illegal in some places. It’s still not that legal in many places. But I just think you have to think about what values you have and if you have those values, not being cowed into saying, you have to have everyone’s point of view. This is our value, this is what … Every internet company has a little statement of who they are and I think they’re scared about that, they’re scared about stating them.
Yeah. That’s interesting, but I also think that there are some issues that respectable, intelligent, well-meaning people can disagree, and I wonder about our inability to have a respectful conversation about … Certain things are non-negotiable, I understand that, but certain things that you can have a different point of view, and you can learn from somebody, and they can say, “This is how I feel about this.” aAnd I feel like those conversations aren’t happening. And it really bums me out and I think it’s really damaging the country.
Well, it’s because it’s so politicized. Yes, it’s so politicized. But maybe, I was just thinking the other day, some other point of view came out and I was like, “I’m so glad to hear this point of view, now I know.” People are like, “I can’t believe people are like this.” I think they’ve always been like this, they just have an outlet. And especially social media amplifies and weaponizes a lot of it. When I think about it I’m like, “Well okay, now I can see it, it’s out in broad daylight, I understand the ignorance,” or whatever I think of whatever the point of view is. Many I find are ignorant.
You can’t really persuade somebody if you’re not talking to them. There’s a really good book that’s written by the incoming president at the University of Virginia, Jim Ryan, it’s called, “Wait … What?” And he gave a great speech at the Harvard School of Education and it’s basically, we’ve lost our ability to be even a tiny bit circumspect. We have these instantaneous reactions and sometimes just to take a moment and say, wait, what?
And anyway, it’s very interesting the way we hear things, the way we react to things, the way that we are in our own echo chambers, the way that we’re preaching to the choir, especially on social media and Twitter. I just wish once in a while we could all say, wait what?
Except I’m gonna push back on that.
And hear each other a little bit, not on everything, Kara, but on some things.
No, I’m gonna push back on it in a very big way because I do think we’re hearing each other, that’s the problem. I’m reading the actual book on “Hamilton,” not the musical, which I really much enjoyed.
Oh, the David Chernow? Ron Chernow?
Ron Chernow. If you read that book, the stuff that was going on between Hamilton, Jefferson, Madison and Washington …
Not to mention Aaron Burr.
Yeah, exactly. Who created a problem at the end. It was really quite the same, it is even worse. And our democracy hung by thread so many times, the Whiskey Rebellion, the XYZ Affair. We have no sense of history is what it is. And if you read that, you’re like, “Oh my god.” You realize … And the invective was so vicious through these different newspaper articles they wrote against each other. They were was act, this Addition Act, people don’t remember it, people went to jail for having a Republican point of view, if they insulted the government. And that was a law in the books for a very long time, that if you insulted the government you were jailed. So people who were not of the Adams group, the Federalists, were put in jail for years and their lives were changed.
So I think this has been an American problem for years. It’s the lack of ability to have any memory and at the same time realize we have always been like this. And what’s happened is Trump has just given voice to all of it, now we see it instantly and that’s what’s discomforting about it. But this is not something … Go read that book, cuz then I sort of felt a little better. I was like, “Oh wow, we’ve been doing this for centuries. We’re on the cusp of anarchy at every single second.”
I’ll read that and you read “Wait … What?”
All right, I’ll read … cuz I think it’s not. I think social media’s made it worse and that these companies have a responsibility, and we’ll end on that because one of the things, when you were talking about how do I get liked and disliked, what I think happens and the reason I think you’re successful is because … I hate to have something in common with Donald Trump but you say it like it is for you, and I think people do appreciate that. Whether they disagree with you or don’t agree with you, if you have a cogent point of view and you’re genuine, these mediums, you thrive in them.
I guess. I’m still quite careful. I think that you are sort of Kara-bar-the-door. I’m a little more careful about some of the things I put out there in the world because, I don’t know. I wanna get the I-don’t-care gene from you somehow because I still have that desire to be liked.
Yeah, you gotta get rid of that, Katie.
I have it less as I’ve gotten older but I still have it.
At 70, you’re gonna say, “Fuck you.”
When is it? What age you gonna do that at?
Well I’m starting to say, not f-you, but …
It’s so sweet you can’t say it.
Get out of here.
Get out of town. Bite me. That’s about as far as I go.
Oh my god.
I do say, “bite me.”
I do you think you get an enormous amount of criticism that I can’t imagine having. Like I was thinking there was a story about Lena Dunham in Vanity Fair about the same thing.
Oh gosh, yeah. Lena, really, I mean.
I love Lena Dunham.
This is the world we live in and I think you can say nothing and stand for nothing, or you can say when you feel strongly about things. I’ve been pretty open about saying we have to have a conversation about sensible gun laws. It is insanity.
It is insanity, and no it’s not a panacea. No, it will never prevent gun violence but it can reduce it and it has to be a multi-pronged approach. I agree mental illness is a part of it but easy access to firearms is really a horrific thing.
And I’ve been pretty vocal about that.
So what’s your next … You’ve got me to have my colonoscopy.
I’m actually taking a well-known person to get screened in March. I’m not gonna tell you who.
But I’m gonna escort this individual.
No. I am not actually gonna perform the colonoscopy because I’m not qualified but I’m going to be sort of the escort, which will be fun because it’s such a preventable disease. Nothing feels better to be, if you talk about anything I’ve done in my life and when people come up to me, Kara, and say, “You know what? I got screened for colon cancer because of you and that screening saved my life,” I mean that makes me feel like I’m walking on a cloud.
I agree. I have the colon of a 20 year old.
Do you? Mazel, mazel.
I’m clean, clean. Clean living, Katie.
When was your last … Well you’re not … How old are you now?
I’m old, 54.
Okay, so how many? You’ve had one colonoscopy?
One, yes. I’m going to have one next year.
Five years, right? Five years? Can you tell me, Doctor Couric?
Yes. Well, depending on what they find. They found a McDonald’s cheeseburger when I did mine.
You didn’t take the pills?
No, I’m kidding.
No, I will take ’em.
I wanna end on one thing. Where do you imagine you’re gonna go next? You’re talking about Instagram, which I think is really interesting but … And then I’m gonna tell you what I’m gonna do next, if you wanna know.
I do wanna know, of course I wanna know.
What do you imagine, if you could like design a career right now? Like you’re doing these documentaries, you’re doing all kinds of things. What would be the most interesting way … Still storytelling, I think.
I mean, storytelling, I do love talking to interesting people. I like understanding sort of where they came from, how they got there. I love learning all the time. I’m insatiably curious so I think … I don’t know exactly. I need some career advice from you, Kara.
I think you should interview. I think you should interview.
Because I also like being connected to an audience or to people. I like feeling that I have access to people, that I can make them … I can make complicated subjects more understandable or that I can introduce them to something that they’re not aware of that will improve their lives, or that will just make their day more interesting. I like being sort of that conduit for people and I think I have a pretty good sensibility about things. I think I’ve got a nose for news, as they say. I can sense when something is gonna kinda be in the ethos. So I don’t know exactly but I just wanna keep learning and discovering, and that sounds so cheesy and weird but you know, I just enjoy being engaged and I like to bring people along for the ride.
That’s not cheesy. And you should do interviews, I’m just telling you. What do you imagine your greatest interview was?
I think my most impactful, which really isn’t a word but now I think it is a word cuz it’s used so much, I think it probably was Sarah Palin.
That was a hell of an interview.
Having nothing to do with me, I think basically went there with questions that required critical thinking and accumulated knowledge. And I think I was very careful about asking them in a non-confrontational way.
You did …
I think it exposed a lot about her and I think that was very helpful for voters.
Yeah, you took a photograph, you know what I mean?
More like an x-ray.
Yeah, you did, and you couldn’t deny it. It was like okay, I see. It was really interesting.
But I feel like I’ve done a lot of pretty good interviews, like this one for example.
Ah, this one.
One more question, hold on.
This is from Jiana, my producer.
What muscles and skills do you think entrepreneurship draws upon compared to journalism?
Katie, I think being irritating is the most important muscle skill that anyone has to have.
Irritating. Being irritable and irritating. Looking at something and saying, “Why is this done this way?” I think ever great entrepreneur from Steve Jobs down to today, lots of great entrepreneurs are, every one of them is irritating and irritated. So they see something and they don’t let anything stop them from doing it, and I think it’s really hard. I think agreeable people don’t invent things.
Yeah. I think the most important word in an entrepreneur’s vocabulary is, “Why?”
Or maybe, “Why not?”
It’s more like, “I don’t like this, I don’t want to do this …” I think our greatest will be from very difficult people.
Oh and by the way, before we go, I have to plug my podcast. I’m getting it in big, bold letters, highlighted in yellow.
So hey Kara, tell your listeners, who by the way, I’m sure you have a lot of really cool people who listen to your podcast.
Will you tell them to listen to my mine?
Because it’s actually, I hope it’s interesting and fun. We have a lot of cool guests like Julia Louis Dreyfus, Mitch Landrieu. That’s one nice thing, you know, because I’ve been doing this for a century, I’m able to get pretty good guests on my podcast.
So who else, Julia Louis, Mitch Landrieu, who else? Who else? Who else have you had?
Well Doris Kearns Goodwin, Samantha Bee …
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Gretchen Carlson, Amy Schumer, I just interviewed in her apartment. You would love Amy Schumer. Do you know her?
No, I do not, Katie.
Oh you would love her. When you’re in New York, let’s all get together. I like her, I don’t hang out with her, but I think you would love her. Alec Baldwin, Tina Brown, the aforementioned Tina Brown, Ina Garten. I cooked eggs in Ina Garten’s kitchen in East Hampton.
They were delicious. Danny Meyer, who I love. David Axelrod, Martha Stewart, blah blah blah, Sheryl Sandberg. Who you know well.
Listen, Katie Couric. Yes, I do. I do. I do know Sheryl Sandberg.
We talk to her about … Is it Plan B or “Option B”?
“Option B,” yes. Which of course I could relate to her experience.
Absolutely, that much have been … I’m gonna listen to that interview.
Listen to all of them Kara, you have nothing else to do.
I’m gonna spend my whole day listening to Katie Couric. Anyway Katie, thank you so much.
This was so fun. Will you call me when you come to New York so we can hang out?
Totally, I absolutely will do that.
And Happy President’s Day, by the way.
Thank you so much.
And by the way, I wanted to ask you, you’re thinking about running for mayor of San Francisco, right?
You have a million questions, Katie, we’ll have to do Part 2 of this thing.
Maybe, perhaps. I think I might aim even higher, Katie.
Really? Are you gonna run for president?
No, that would be a disaster.
What am I talking about.
You’d be great. Can I be your Press Secretary?
Oh my god. We would just go down in flames, it would be so good.
Hey, it sounds like a sitcom, doesn’t it?
It does, it does. Let’s write it. All right, thank you, Katie Couric.
Wait, I gotta say my goodbye. You gotta listen to my good bye part. Katie, it was great talking to you, thanks for coming on the show. Once again, Katie’s podcast is called Katie Couric. You can find it pretty much everywhere you listen to Recode Decode and she gets much better guests than I do.
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