Here in Canada, I’m an entertainment reporter on an entertainment news program called ETALK. This summer will mark my 15th anniversary on the show. Part of my job is to interview actors, singers, writers, etc. And if you’ve been visiting this site over the years, you know that I have some stories – about people who were the BEST (Daniel Radcliffe and Hugh Jackman are consistently the best) and people who are the WORST. Of course when I say someone is the worst, it’s because of how they treated me in particular. It can be that my experience is not everyone else’s. What I can assure you of however is that I wouldn’t say my experience was sh-tty if I didn’t feel like I did my job, if I didn’t show up prepared. The most unpleasant experience I’ve had in the last two years was interviewing Jake Gyllenhaal at the Toronto International Film Festival, with Sasha producing. He knocked me down metaphorically so many times and I kept getting back up and trying again, to the point where Sasha said to me afterward that she thought I might be self-harming.
I’m telling you this because I don’t want to get into this Katie Couric story without acknowledging that I too have shared stories about celebrity interviews gone sideways. And you could point out later, after reading this post, what the difference is between what happened to her and what I’ve said has happened to me. Maybe in the end you won’t see one. In my opinion, the difference is in perspective and hindsight and reflection. I once interviewed Ed Helms years ago at Sundance for a movie he was promoting and ended up humiliated – but I deserved it because I tried to be clever and asked him a question about The Office that made no f-cking sense. In other words, I hadn’t done my homework before formulating the question. I just thought the question sounded good and didn’t bother to research it. And he busted me for it. So I walked away from that feeling burned and indignant but worse, I knew I couldn’t defend it because I couldn’t defend myself.
With that in mind, Katie Couric was on a podcast recently and talked about her interview with Denzel Washington back in 2004 – per PEOPLE:
Couric told Pellegrino she believed Washington "totally misconstrued a question I asked and kind of jumped all over me and it was so uncomfortable."
During the interview, which Meryl Streep was also present for, Couric asked Washington if he agreed with the idea that "Hollywood folks should just stick to acting."
Washington responded: "I don’t know what Hollywood folks are, first of all. ... Hollywood is a town that has some stars on the sidewalk. I don’t know anybody from there … That’s like calling you a ‘type’ of folks. I’m not a Hollywood folk. I don’t know who they are.”
Couric attempted to rephrase her question to Washington, beginning to ask, "Are you one of those people that —,” but Washington interrupted her.
"Ah, there you go. ‘Am I one of those people?’ Hm, isn’t that interesting?” Washington said. He then added, “No, don’t stop. I heard what you just said. ‘Am I one of those people?’ No, I’m not.”
When Couric tried to elaborate on her question, Washington said, "I’m a human being. My job is acting."
Reflecting on the interview, Couric told Pellegrino, "I just remember leaving it and thinking, 'God, I must have ... I don't think I said anything wrong, I don't know what happened.'"
Anyway, he must have been having a really bad day, because he later wrote a really big check to my colon cancer organization, which I thought was super sweet," Couric said of Washington.
While Couric shared that Washington is "one of my favorite actors," she admitted she was left upset by their interaction.
"I remember walking out and feeling really kind of shaken that he had kind of gone after me in a way that was completely, weirdly uncalled for," she said.
Was it “completely, weirdly uncalled for”? He didn’t like her calling him “Hollywood folk” and clarified to her why he took exception to it and explained why. But then she rephrased it badly, as “those people”. Which still didn’t sit right with him because it was pretty much the same. She didn’t use her words properly. Which Denzel pointed out. Twice.
That’s like calling you a ‘type’ of folks.”
"Ah, there you go. ‘Am I one of those people?’ Hm, isn’t that interesting?”
Maybe back then, in 2004, over 15 years ago, conversations about microaggressions, and how what used to be acceptable social interactions were wounding the Black community, weren’t as prevalent. I know I wasn’t having them as often as I have them now. And I know for sure that I have been guilty of being microaggressive and that I, like so many of you, have been trying to unlearn it. But now, especially for a journalist like Katie Couric, the fact that she still doesn’t get it is a problem. She doesn’t get that describing the interaction as something that left her “shaken” is so loaded with implicit bias – the fragile little white woman being intimidated by the big black man – it isn’t the best example of self-reflection. In fact, she’s telling the story like she was the one who was totally innocent. And offers as proof of that his donation to her foundation, once again making it about her, instead of attributing his gift as an example of his grace, a reflection of HIS character as opposed to hers. And that’s really where microaggressions come from: who you centre in a story. This is bias. And this is clearly her bias as she processes this story all these years later. It’s also an example of NOT showing your work. On this site we have many times highlighted when interviews do show their work, ask great questions, great follow-ups, even with difficult subjects. Katie Couric has experience. She’s anchored many network daytime and primetime news programs. She’s one of the bigger names in broadcast news. She knows how to show her work. But I’m not sure she’s doing it here.