Katie Couric called into CNN's "Reliable Sources" for an interview with Howard Kurtz. They discussed a wide range of topics, including her scoop of a first interview with US Airways pilot Chesley Sullenberger, her interview with President Obama, and her recent uptick in ratings after more than two years in the anchor chair.
Couric, addressing her ratings, said that she doesn't necessarily think that two years is such a long time to get comfortable behind the desk and that she worries less about ratings than the quality of the work. She admitted "it's not a lot of fun being pummeled in the press," but that she does not take it personally: "I think that there are a lot of unhappy, sort of insecure, vitriolic people out there, and I always sort of feel bad for them, that this is how they spend their time."
Watch a clip of Couric's interview below. Transcript is below the video.
KURTZ: And Katie Couric joins me now by phone from New York. And Katie, we appreciate you calling in. You were so anxious to be on the program that you called in early. We had to call you back.
COURIC: Well, I didn't want to be late, Howie. I got nervous, because I've been on the receiving end of late calls, so I didn't want to do that to you.
COURIC: But it's nice to talk to you.
KURTZ: Same here.
When you sat down with Sully, he seems like such a self-effacing guy. Was he reluctant to take a lot of credit for what he had done?
COURIC: Yes, very much so. You know, he is -- I mean, I think you look up "self-effacing" in the dictionary, and it has a picture of Sully Sullenberger. He is extremely humble, extraordinarily modest, and he is very quick to point out that there were five crew members on that plane that day. And in fact, when I asked him about the label of "hero," he said he thought the first responders were the heroes because they were at the ready in about four minutes, all surrounding that plane as it floated in a very surreal fashion on the Hudson River. And he said if they hadn't been there as quickly as they were, it would have been complete disaster. I said, "Yes, but you're the one that landed the plane, and the plane was intact." And, of course, that was an extremely part of the story. But he is extremely understated and humble about the whole thing.
KURTZ: And you were careful to include the entire crew, so the program is not just about Sullenberger.
COURIC: No. Well, you know, his co-pilot played an important role as well, Jeff Skiles. He had just trained, by the way, Howie, to fly the Airbus 320. And I think that was actually fortuitous, because he was very familiar with sort of the procedures, so as Sully Sullenberger took over the controls -- because it was Jeff's turn. They alternate who flies the plane at any given time when they are on a four-day trip like this. And when he said, "My aircraft," Jeff Skiles said, "Your aircraft," and then proceeded to help kind of go down the checklist for an emergency landing of this kind.
And by the way, the flight attendants are fascinating, too, because it's almost as if there were two situations or two separate accidents on that plane. In the back of the plane, it was a much more violent landing. The water was coming through and into the plane.
COURIC: And at one point, the flight attendant in the back thought it was over for her. So I think you'll really be interested in the sort of dual accounts inside that cabin.
KURTZ: Right, everybody having a different perspective on those horrendous moments.
KURTZ: Was it difficult to get Sully to talk about the emotions he felt during those pressure-packed moments?
COURIC: Yes. You know, I mean, I think he is the consummate professional.
He's been an Air Force fighter pilot, he's been flying commercially for 30 years. And I think, you know, he didn't allow himself -- quite frankly, he didn't have the time to indulge himself into any feelings of panic.
I think what he said in that clip you ran, and the fact that it was first a feeling of feeling incredulous that this was happening. After that he realized, you know, he had a lot to do.
He had to figure out where they were going to land, you know, knowing that LaGuardia and Teterboro eventually would not be possibilities, and then prepare for a landing, a water landing, which is extremely difficult to do. So, you know, he did -- I think he wasn't all that emotional during the process.
In fact, at one point I said, "Did you pray at any moment?" And he said, "There were a lot of people in the cabin doing that for me. I had to fly the airplane."
KURTZ: Right. You know, even in normal circumstances, I guess, to be a successful pilot, you have to be able to tune out just about every distraction and focus on the job at hand.
COURIC: Yes. He said it took enormous concentration and focus to kind of remove those feelings of fear, and obviously he did what he needed to do to get the job done.
KURTZ: Right. Right.
Now your former partner, Matt Lauer, had announced that "The Today Show" was going to do the first interview with Sully. I don't want to use the word "steal," but how did you lure Sully over to do the interview with you in "60 Minutes?"
COURIC: Well, you know, in fairness, I think they might have jumped the gun a bit, because this whole interview -- really, I think maybe Matt was told by one person, but it was really a lot of people involved in the decision-making process, including the entire crew, Sully and his family, the Airline Pilots Association, the flight attendants. There were a couple of people helping them out from a PR perspective.
And so we did it like anybody else does these things. We talked to them, we told them we thought that "60 Minutes" was a good venue for them, it was more controlled. And we thought we could craft and produce a really excellent piece. And, you know, I think ultimately they all got together and they made that decision, and that's what happened.
KURTZ: Earlier in the show, Katie, we played clips of interviews with the network anchors that President Obama did. You were at the White House this week, talked to the president.
Did he seem ready to just admit that he had screwed up on the Daschle nomination? In other words, that it didn't take much prodding on your part?
COURIC: Oh, yes. I mean, I think that the administration definitely decided before we even, you know, arrived in Washington that this was going to be a mea culpa moment.
I don't think -- when they arranged for these interviews to take place, I think it was designed to really focus on the stimulus package.
But then Tom Daschle withdrew at about noon, I believe.
COURIC: And the woman from OMB, the deputy director who is going to be head of performance review, she pulled out because of tax issues.
And so I think they realized that the focal point of the interviews had changed pretty radically from when they had invited us down to the Oval Office. So, yes, he was very, very quick to say that.
The one question I wish I had followed up with -- you know, sometimes you think about these a half an hour later...
KURTZ: Of course.
COURIC: ... is, when you say, "I'm sorry, I screwed up, I made a mistake," was it a mistake that you actually chose Tom Daschle knowing he had tax issues and you underestimated the impact it would have, or was it a mistake that he hadn't about as thoroughly vetted as he might have been?
KURTZ: Right. What is the nature of the mistake.
COURIC: So I still think that's a bit of a question mark.
KURTZ: I think that's something we need to explore further.
You've been getting some pretty good press lately for your work on the "CBS Evening News." You're still in third place, but the ratings have ticked up a little bit.
After two and a half years in the anchor chair, why do you think it's taken so long?
COURIC: Well, I think by many people's standards, that wouldn't be taking so long at all. I think these things move glacially, actually, and viewer habits are pretty firmly entrenched.
COURIC: You know, I know it's been taking you a while for you to get a big audience on CNN.
KURTZ: It's taken a little while.
COURIC: So I just think it's one of those things that I think, first of all, people had to get used to me in the job. You know, a face that had not been familiar to CBS viewers. And then I also think that, you know, I had to get used to the job, and we had to sort of find the right balance of me getting out in the field and doing interviews, which is what I really enjoy doing, and reporting. And I just think it took a while to sort of be operating on all four cylinders.
But Rick Kaplan is doing a fantastic job. I think the show has been really high quality. I was really proud of the show from the get-go...
COURIC: ... but I think these things just take time. And that's OK. And, you know, I don't really look at the ratings. I look at the quality of the work. And I really think our newscast is as good or better than any of our competitors, and I'm really proud of the work that all of the correspondents and producers do on a nightly basis.
Some of the early criticism, you know, turned kind of personal, and is a woman really right for evening news anchor? And I just wonder whether that was a painful period for you at all?
COURIC: I mean, you know, listen, it's not a lot of fun being pummeled in the press. But on the other hand, I've always had enough confidence in my abilities and my work to know that sometimes there are larger issues at work here about the role of women in society and, you know, sort of -- I didn't really take it that personally. I think that there are a lot of unhappy, sort of insecure, vitriolic people out there, and I always sort of feel bad for them, that this is how they spend their time.
We're going to put up some pictures of you over the years, and I'm going to ask you whether the you think at all a factor in your recent success could be this new hairstyle.
COURIC: I don't know. You know, you should ask Charlie Gibson about how he's changed his part a little bit, or how Brian looks more tan on the air. I really don't know, Howie.
KURTZ: While we have you, we're seeing you on "The Today Show."
Oh, that's an interesting one. You'll have to see a tape of this.
COURIC: I was pregnant. I actually am watching these.
KURTZ: OK. You've got the TV on.
COURIC: Yes. I kind of like the John King shot of me feeding him grapes the best.
KURTZ: Yes. Do you have an explanation for that before we go?
COURIC: I don't really remember, but I do remember being over there with John. And he's a great reporter, and I'm so happy for his success.
KURTZ: Well, it was so nice of you to treat him royally the way you did.
Katie Couric, thanks so much for calling in.
COURIC: OK, Howie. Good to talk to you. Bye.
KURTZ: Nice to talk to you this morning.
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