Katie Couric Denounces Hillary-Cleavage News as 'Disgraceful', a 'New Low'

In one of her one-minute "Katie Couric’s Notebook" speeches on her Katie & Co. blog, CBS anchor Katie Couric came lecturing to Hillary Clinton’s defense on August 1 over Robin Givhan’s Washington Post fashion review of her cleavage on C-SPAN2, but she never mentioned the Post, just how the story "dominated cable news for days, and it’s disgraceful." She sounded the feminist alarm: "By focusing on this display of decolletage, it seems we’ve plunged to a new low. What’s next? Studying a candidate’s too-tight jeans?" She said this election was too important for trivia: "If we focus on the issues, we could judge the candidates not on the color of their clothes, but on the content of their character." She acknowledged some fashion issues were "fair game," when the targets were men: the John Edwards $400 haircuts and how "Dick Cheney was slammed for wearing a parka when he visited a concentration camp."

This is the complete text of the commentary:

The cost of a college education has tripled in the last 20 years. That’s what Hillary Clinton was discussing last week on the Senate floor, but not what the media reported. You see, she wore a V-neck blouse revealing more skin than usual. This dominated cable news for days, and it’s disgraceful. Okay, some things are fair game: Dick Cheney was slammed for wearing a parka when he visited a concentration camp, and John Edwards was mocked for his $400 haircut. But body parts? By focusing on this display of decolletage, it seems we’ve plunged to a new low. What’s next? Studying a candidate’s too-tight jeans? This is a critically important time in our nation’s history, and Election Day’s 15 months away. As for the ensemble that launched a thousand quips, Andrea Mitchell said, ‘Sometimes a blouse is just a blouse.’ If we focus on the issues, we could judge the candidates not on the color of their clothes, but on the content of their character. That’s a page from my notebook. I’m Katie Couric, CBS News.

Maybe Couric didn’t mention Givhan because the CBS show Sunday Morning aired a puffy profile of her on May 14, 2006. But Couric probably shouldn’t play media critic without research. Is the attack on cable news accurate, that it "dominated" coverage for days? That it was a 24/7 topic, like Princess Diana’s car crash?

I tried a quick Nexis check of CNN, since Nexis only has parts of MSNBC and FNC coverage. I only found six mentions, all on July 29 and 30 – all after Hillary Clinton’s campaign made the cleavage story an issue and a fundraising ploy, something Couric leaves out of her Ann Lewis-echoing commentary. The first segment on the 29th came on Howard Kurtz’s journalism show Reliable Sources. Another of those mentions was a fleeting joke on the Glenn Beck show, which isn’t even on main CNN, but on Headline News. Then consider the tone of some of the actual CNN coverage on July 30:

– On The Situation Room, Wolf Blitzer held a discussion with two female pundits, Democrat Stephanie Cutter and Republican Leslie Sanchez. Cutter denounced the story, strangely insisting against all evidence that "the best way to stop a news story from being covered again is to use it as a fund-raising tool." Sanchez sharply insisted that the Clinton campaign wanted to use this fluff to divert people from her liberal record.

Later, Carol Costello did a light report (including a liberal blogger from Feministing.com), but said the story was either "incredibly demeaning or, as The Washington Post asserts, sassy." Blitzer led with the critics: "A lot of people though suggesting that this is different, that this is really sexist, the whole notion, the basis of the article." Costello replied: "You are right. A lot of people are saying that. But Givhan says Clinton's cleavage is news because it is out of the ordinary and says something about the way that people want to be perceived."

– On Lou Dobbs Tonight, it came up in passing when liberal talk show host Joe Madison carped "there's just so many non-issues. I mean Hillary Clinton's cleavage?" Dobbs agreed: "That is about as dumb as it gets."

– On Paula Zahn Now, it also came up in passing, in an anguished discussion about why America is still so backward it hasn’t had a black or female President yet. One guest was Kenneth Arroyo Roldan, author of Minority Rules: Turn Your Ethnicity into a Competitive Edge. He suggested it was a metaphor for sexism: "Look at Hillary's neckline, for God's sake, as it relates to issues that still are quite pervasive in the marketplace." Zahn replied: "We had not planned on talking about her cleavage tonight, but you took us right there. Judith, let's not sugarcoat this, though, because we have seen electorates overwhelmingly put women in office. We have seen it in Chile. We have seen it the U.K. We have seen it India. We have seen it Germany. Why hasn't it happened here? There certainly are a lot of qualified females out there."

So how does this display make Katie Couric look for denouncing it all as "disgraceful"? None of these CNN snippets sound critical of Hillary (except for GOP pundit Sanchez). As for Cheney being "fair game," it should be noted that while CNN took nine or ten days to notice Givhan’s Hillary critique, Brent Baker reported back in January of 2005 that CNN arrived on the story (again, with a dismissive tone) on the same day -- no ten-day wait on that one.

PS: It might help to remember that Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt was appalled by the Givhan-inspired parka fuss at the time. From her blog:

Having been asked by a number of people about Dick Cheney's choice of a parka and a navy wool cap for the Auschwitz commemoration, I must say that I find the whole discussion ridiculous. Having been with him the evening before and discussed his previous visit to Auschwitz [with Germad (sic, Gerald) Ford] and walked with him through Auschwitz I the next morning, I have no doubt that he was deeply moved and touched by his visits.

I have two thoughts: the man has a history of heart trouble. My mother's cardiologist would probably have told her, also a heart patient, "are you nuts to even think about sitting outside for 3.5 hours in a driving snow storm? If you must then wear the warmest clothing you have." [And I remind those who compared this to the inaguration that that ceremony was about 40 minutes, this one was far longer.]

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis