Katie Couric Contradicts College Commencement Address Four Days Later

Are you sick and tired of Paris Hilton and all the attention given to this wealthy debutant when there are so many more important issues facing the nation?

Well, if so, you’re in good company, for in a commencement address at Williams College last Sunday, CBS “Evening News” anchor Katie Couric accurately stated that this “fluff…can rot your mind and distort your values.”

Yet, just four days later, Couric actually gave more airtime to Paris Hilton’s brief departure from jail than every other story that evening with the exception of the opening piece about growing tensions between Russian President Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush and the final segment dealing with a retirement home for champion racehorses.

To set this up, here is the relevant text from Couric’s commencement speech:

The proliferation of celebrity magazines makes Lindsey Lohan’s latest stint in rehab seem more important than what’s happening in Darfur.

The kind of fluff that accosts us on the newsstand may seem like harmless fun, but it should also come with a warning label that says it can rot your mind and distort your values.

I whole-heartedly agree, Katie. Then why spend more time on Paris Hilton getting out of jail Thursday than you did on stories about the G-8’s declaration regarding climate change, what’s going on in Iraq, recent statements made by anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, and a man being charged for the murder of Kelsey Smith? Isn’t that a bit contradictory? Or, is it only okay for you to rot minds and distort values?

Making matters worse, Katie spent more time on this ridiculous subject Thursday than her competition on ABC and NBC. Here was her entire report on Hilton:

KATIE COURIC, anchor:

The bar for outrage over celebrity behavior is set pretty high in Hollywood these days, but Paris Hilton's very early release from jail has brought howls of protest and cries of a double standard. City officials in Los Angeles have been flooded with phone calls, and the county supervisor has called for an investigation. Bill Whitaker has the latest.

BILL WHITAKER reporting:

You almost can't help but know than celebrity socialite Paris Hilton has been considered a girl gone wild, then a girl gone to jail. But now that she's a girl gone home after just three days behind bars, a fed up public is going ballistic.

Mr. NAJEE ALI (Civil Rights Activist): We feel that Paris Hilton got a free--get out of jail card today by manipulating and using her celebrity status to get out of jail.

WHITAKER: From the blogosphere to the legal sphere, criticism of Paris is burning.

Unidentified Man: It's not equal justice for all.

WHITAKER: After one more red carpet traipse, the 26-year-old heiress turned herself in early Monday morning to serve 45 days in this 12-by-eight cell for violating probation on a drunk driving charge. Today the LA County sheriff sent her home to her 2,700-square foot mansion in the Hollywood Hills, citing unspecified medical reasons.

Mr. STEVEN WHITMORE (Spokesman, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Dept.): It is not an early release. It is a reassignment. She is still in custody. She has an ankle bracelet, electronic monitoring and she's confined to her home.

WHITAKER: To critics the ankle bracelet is just another Paris fashion accessory.

Ms. LaTOYA WILSON (Released Inmate): If it had of been me, and I had, like, a medical condition they'd have sent me to county general. They have a facility in here, and I would have been right back in my cell.

WHITAKER: The truth is the last five years in LA County, more than 200,000 inmates have been released early. Because of prison overcrowding, the vast majority serve less than 10 percent of their sentences, but a quick in-and-out medical release like Paris Hilton's? Rare.

Mr. DONALD ETRA (Attorney): When the constitutional founding fathers put the phrase "all men are created equal" into the Constitution, Hollywood had not yet been invented.

WHITAKER: The Reverend Al Sharpton is coming to LA to protest this so-called celebrity injustice in front of Hilton's house. He'll have to push aside the press. Meanwhile, in a statement, Miss Hilton says she hopes others learn from her mistakes. The question tonight: Has she? Bill Whitaker, CBS News, Hollywood.

By contrast, Charles Gibson on Thursday’s “World News” used Hilton’s departure from jail to look at a larger issue about the number of ill nonviolent inmates that don’t receive such special treatment:

CHARLES GIBSON (ABC NEWS)

(Off-camera) Tonight, we're gonna take 'A Closer Look" at a development in a high-profile celebrity case that is raising questions about privilege and a double standard in the justice system.

GRAPHICS: PRISON AND PRIVILEGE

CHARLES GIBSON (ABC NEWS)

(Off-camera) It involves Paris Hilton, a favorite of the gossip business. She was sent to jail for 45 days for a probation violation, among other charges. But this morning, after spending just over 72 hours in jail, she was released because of an unspecified medical condition. There are thousands of ailing inmates in prisons who never get out early. So why did she get out? Here's ABC's Pierre Thomas.

GRAPHICS: EQUAL JUSTICE?

PIERRE THOMAS (ABC NEWS)

(Voiceover) Paris Hilton has gone from serving her sentence in a 12-foot by eight-foot jail cell like this, to here, her $2 million mansion in Hollywood, complete with a closet four times the size of her cell.

CLIP FROM "THE SIMPLE LIFE"

PARIS HILTON (ACTRESS)

I love this closet.

DANA COLE (CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY)

Ridiculous, outrageous, unbelievable. Unfortunately, my clients who are not in the social scene or in the newspaper every day on the social pages, they don't get this type of special treatment.

GRAPHICS: ABCNEWS.COM

PIERRE THOMAS (ABC NEWS)

(Voiceover) Thousands of ABCNEWS.com readers agree. In this nonscientific sampling earlier today, 9,006 of 9,584 voters said Hilton should still be in the slammer. 'What a crock of bull," said one writer. Another wrote, 'If she had been any of my friends, there is no way they would have gotten off so easy." Hilton was arrested last September for driving while under the influence. She was sentenced to 45 days in jail, but it was reduced to 23 days.

GRAPHICS: PRISON POPULATION

PIERRE THOMAS (ABC NEWS)

(Voiceover) There are more than 2.1 million people in the nation's prisons and jails. About 600,000 of them are nonviolent, first-time offenders. Most serve at least half of their sentence.

PIERRE THOMAS (ABC NEWS)

(Off-camera) And Justice Department statistics suggest that many nonviolent offenders stay in jail even though they suffer from medical conditions.

GRAPHICS: PRISONER MEDICAL PROBLEMS

PIERRE THOMAS (ABC NEWS)

(Voiceover) A 2006 government survey showed that a third of all inmates reported a medical problem. 229,000 had illnesses other than a cold or virus. Three years ago, Jonathan Magbie's family wanted him to serve a 10-day sentence for marijuana possession at his home. They believed Magbie, a quadriplegic since an accident at age four, would need constant medical care. He died five days after being incarcerated. Like Hilton, Magbie was a first-time offender. His mother was heartbroken.

MARY SCOTT (JONATHAN MAGBIE'S MOTHER)

I don't think he deserved to die because he admitted that he smoked marijuana.

PIERRE THOMAS (ABC NEWS)

(Voiceover) It's clear in America, there are different degrees of justice. Pierre Thomas, ABC news, Washington.

CHARLES GIBSON (ABC NEWS)

(Off-camera) As Pierre mentioned, there has been an overwhelming response to this story on our website today.

CHARLES GIBSON (ABC NEWS)

(Voiceover) And we'd like to hear what you think. Give us your thoughts at ABCNEWS.com.

Yet, the best Hilton coverage Thursday evening was done by the “NBC Nightly News” which chose not to report this nonsense at all. How refreshing.

Moving forward, when a judge ordered Paris back to jail Friday, Couric once again gave great focus to the story. In fact, she covered Hilton before reporting on an apparent cooling of the rhetoric between Bush and Putin at the G-8 meeting while totally ignoring the collapse of the immigration bill in Congress.

Here was her report Friday:

KATIE COURIC, anchor:

Meanwhile, another high profile case has sparked a worldwide media frenzy tonight. Paris Hilton is back behind bars, told to serve her full sentence for violating parole in a reckless driving case. This just one day after the LA County sheriff released her to home confinement, citing medical reasons. Bill Whittaker has the latest on a story that just gets stranger and stranger.

BILL WHITTAKER reporting:

For party girl Paris Hilton, the party's over for a while. She was taken from an LA courtroom, sobbing and wailing, `Mom, it's not right,' after Judge Michael Sauer sent her back to jail.

Mr. ALLAN PARACHINI (Spokesman, Los Angeles Superior Court): He ruled that he was remanding Ms. Hilton to the sheriff's custody to serve the remainder of her sentence at the Century Regional Detention Center.

Offscreen Voice: No! No!

WHITTAKER: The hotel heiress was sent home with an ankle monitor after only three days in jail, despite the judge's explicit orders which included no electronic monitoring.

He called her back to court today. When he found she intended to participate by phone from home, an irate Judge Sauer sent sheriffs to pick her up.

That's when bizarre became surreal.

Unidentified Man: Clear out of the way, people.

WHITTAKER: The scandalous socialite who made a career of getting people to watch her was the center of a white hot media frenzy today. The usually picture-perfect Paris appeared disheveled and distraught before the judge.

Mr. TRENT COPELAND (Attorney): This is a Paris Hilton the public doesn't normally see. This was a vulnerable, scared Paris Hilton.

WHITTAKER: With an image built on being a naughty girl and a spoiled brat, Hollywood wonders is this is a shot in the arm, a kick in the pants or just too much?

Mr. HOWARD BRAGMAN (Hollywood Publicist): I hope jail is a time for her to stop and listen and think, and, you know, sometimes kids need a time out. Paris needs a time out, and I think the public needs a time out from Paris.

WHITTAKER: Reportedly, her attorneys will appeal, so in a couple of weeks, if not sooner, she will be back. Bill Whittaker, CBS News, Hollywood.

COURIC: There is much more CBS News ahead, including a camp of their own where everybody comes back for some more. But up next, as President Bush visits Italy, CIA agents are now on trial for kidnapping terror suspects and outsourcing torture.

When you add it all up, in the five days following her statements at Williams College regarding fluff pieces about troubled Hollywoodans rotting America’s minds and distorting values, Couric spent more time on Paris Hilton than both of her competitors giving it a total of 817 words.

By contrast, Charlie Gibson in the two nights devoted 639 words to this issue, with many of them dealing with what happens to most nonviolent inmates with medical maladies.

And, Brian Williams only reported on Hilton one of the two evenings, giving it 489 words.

So much for Katie’s concern about rotting brains and distorting values.

Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.