Five years ago, after her gig as White House communications director for George W. Bush, Nicolle Wallace moved to New York to look for a new job. She was entertaining offers to be an on-air political expert when she got a call from Katie Couric, then CBS Evening News anchor, inviting her to lunch.
“It takes 45 seconds or less to get to know me,” Couric says. Perhaps that really is the case, because within 15 minutes, Wallace was e-mailing her agent on the BlackBerry in her lap under the tablecloth: “This is who I want to work with.” Eventually she became an official CBS political consultant. “Katie nurtured and mentored me professionally,” recalls Wallace, “and our friendship grew out of that.”
Couric, 54, is the mother of two girls, and when she spoke to More in August, Wallace, 39, was seven months pregnant with her first child (with husband Mark Wallace, a former Republican political consultant and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under George W. Bush). “I haven’t been happier about a pregnancy since my own,” says Couric. The women and their partners—Couric’s boyfriend is entrepreneur Brooks Perlin—catch up over informal dinners.
Wallace and Couric often do city things together: meet for a walk around the reservoir in Central Park, eat breakfast at Sarabeth’s Kitchen, go to a movie, sit on a park bench sipping iced tea. Wallace says her friend is always amused and surprised to be recognized: “She is so unaware of all the things that make her the Katie Couric everyone loves.”
Wallace has given up politics for the time being to concentrate on writing. Her first book, the best-selling Eighteen Acres, is a novel about the first woman president. Her second, It’s Classified, is the sequel.
“Nicolle and I have both had very busy lives,” says Couric, now prepping for her new daytime talk show, Katie, scheduled for fall 2012 on ABC. “I feel really close to her. I can count on her. She’s savvy and smart and a sounding board. I admire her intellect.”
Politics (and media) makes strange bedfellows. A top adviser to 2008 Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain and his running mate, Sarah Palin, Wallace was close to Couric during the campaign; the two often e-mailed each other about the day’s events.
Did it strain their friendship when, in a series of biting interviews, Couric famously asked Palin questions she found hard to answer? “The friendship was always bigger and broader than work,” Wallace says diplomatically. Couric is more forthcoming: “She was uncomfortable with the Sarah Palin exchange, but her reaction to the interview was a professional reaction. Clearly Nicolle wishes it had gone better.”
Both women have been in the crosshairs of public criticism. In the turbulent wake of the Palin-Couric interviews, Wallace took heat from conservatives because of her friendship with “the lamestream media” star and was also accused of leaking negative Palin information to the press. Couric, for her part, saw her anchoring abilities denigrated and her unprecedented CBS contract—for $15 million a year—called into question as the network tried to find the formula that would boost the ratings of the former Today cohost.
“Nicolle understands what it’s like to be criticized in the public sphere, the slings and arrows and nastiness directed at her,” says Couric. “She was so supportive when it happened to me.”
Couric admits that ending her days at CBS when her contract expired in June was difficult, but it was Wallace who gave the best advice. “When I’m making tough career decisions and talking about personal and professional happiness, she knows me,” says Couric. “When push comes to shove, there are few people you can trust with advising you on your career. Nicolle has always had my best interest at heart. I really value that.”
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