Katie Couric's Leap Year

For Katie Couric, it’s been a rough six months in the anchor chair as the first female anchor of the CBS Evening News. But she still gets her kicks from taking enormous risks in public.

By Amy Wilentz

A Day at the Office

After lunch (and an in-office yoga class with her personal instructor — not a daily occurrence, she lets me know), Couric takes a meeting with four CBS news staff members to brainstorm ideas for the Web site. She has changed into a pair of comfortable tailored white trousers and a low-cut orangey top, one of the around-the-office outfits she puts on between more formal events and newscasts. (There is a dressing room behind her office.) Her hair is down now, and she has her glasses on.

Couric and the assembled staff are talking about which stories they should post on cbsnews.com. Present are Melissa McNamara, a producer; Brian Goldsmith, an associate producer; Mike Sims, the news and operations director of cbsnews.com; and Greg Kandra, the editor of Couric’s blog, Couric & Co. Couric sits on her white leather swivel chair with her legs crossed Indian-style, simple white leather slip-ons on her feet. She holds bunches of paper on her lap. Sally Ride stands in the photo behind her, looking into the distance.

Everyone has a lot of ideas. ("There are always too many," Couric says later, "which is good.") She herself has a fistful: one on erotomania and the recently arrested astronaut; another on teens who multitask and whether it affects their ability to analyze school reading material; one on sleep deprivation and moral decision making ("Hopefully," Couric says, "this won’t become the next Twinkie defense"); another on aging and how appearing your real age is becoming taboo ("If you look your age, people think, What’s wrong with her?" says Couric, who has set her cell phone to ring with the tune of the Pussycat Dolls’ "Don’t Cha Wish Your Girlfriend Was Hot Like Me"). These stories will not become simple written blog items, but one-minute commentaries in video and text that can be used by CBS radio and television affiliates across the country. "The stories are topical," Couric explains, "but they reflect my sensibilities. My role model for this is Anna Quindlen."

This is a weekly meeting, and today’s chat is relaxed, although everyone is watchful because a magazine reporter is present. It’s clear that on other days, when no one out of the ordinary is there, conversation has the potential to become more heated. Couric is in charge, and there are plenty of yes-Katies, good-idea-Katies, and that-sounds-good-Katies. The only one who questions Katie’s ideas today is Katie herself.

"Or is that too dry?" she asks the group after pushing for a piece on the Bush administration’s change of heart on global warming. They all agree it’s not too dry. "The worst sin for the Bush people," Brian Goldsmith says, "is changing their mind."

"Or admitting they made a mistake," Couric says. When the meeting is over, she rushes out to her younger daughter Carrie’s dance recital. She doesn’t usually leave the office so close to broadcast time (it’s 3:30, and the show begins in three hours), but she can’t skip Carrie’s event. And that’s smart of her, since, right now, 11-year-old Carrie is not her mother’s biggest fan.

"She doesn’t like the way I smack my lips," Couric says, shaking her head. "She’s always, like, ‘Look, Mom, you just did it again.’" Couric does a reasonably good impersonation of a pubescent girl’s irritation. "If she had her way, she’d be happy only if I stopped breathing." Yet off Couric goes to do the macarena and dance to reggae music with her daughter’s class. (Carrie’s response? According to Couric later: "Stop it, Mom. Don’t move your hips!")

Making the News

Back at the broadcast, Couric sits alone at her desk, but beyond the camera’s line of vision are tech crews, cameramen, makeup people, producers, and writers. Often during the moments of the broadcast when Couric is off camera, she is being dusted, patted, and powdered. A woman rushes in and fixes a stray lock of hair; another takes a clothes brush to Couric’s shoulders. Someone assaults her with a stroke of blusher. Through it all, she’s making quips, checking her lines, jotting notes; she’s always aware of the goings-on of the staff — she never zones out.

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