In her Today show debut this morning, Meredith Vieira gave a flash of her ego - but not of her liberal politics. There was the obligatory opening love-in with co-host Matt Lauer in which Vieira claimed "I feel like it's the first day of school and I'm sitting next to the cutest guy." But then there was an interesting exchange that might presage conflicts to come. In what is apparently a Today show tradition, Matt had the crew replay the opening voice-over announcing "Meredith Vieira, live from Studio 1-A in Rockefeller Plaza."
Asked Matt: "Like the way it sounds?"
Vieira: "I do, but it's still 'Matt Lauer' and 'Meredith Vieira.'"
Lauer: "I don't think that's going to change - unless you bump me off."
When it came time for her news recap, Ann Curry - passed over for the seat awarded Vieira - gave what came across as a perfunctory, half-hearted "welcome, Meredith." Omen of other impending ego battles?
Later in the first half-hour, Vieira was accorded the honor of the top interview of the morning, discussing the politics of the day with Tim Russert. The focus was on the [manufactured] outrage of the Democrats over President Bush's discussion of the war in Iraq in the course of his 9/11 address to the nation.
Alluding to the controversy, Vieira seemed at first to be recapitulating DNC talking points, but then brought it back to center: "Do you think that the President overplayed his hand, or was the administration hoping that the Democrats would respond exactly the way that they did?"
Later, she took what might be seen as a couple pokes at the Democrats: "A lot of people are wondering about the Democrats. They've argued against the Republican position for months now, but they really haven't come up with a plan of their own when it comes to victory in Iraq without withdrawing. Do they need a plan heading into these elections?"
When Russert asserted that "between now and the election I do think the Democrats are going to have to be more specific," Vieira jumped in: "but boy that is not a lot of time to come up with a new plan."
Cynics might say that Vieira was simply urging the Dems to do better, but it struck me as an effort to debut in an even-handed manner.
The second half-hour featured a biographical segment on Vieira, tracing both her personal and professional lives. Meredith is married to Columbia School of Journalism professor Richard Cohen. I was struck to hear Cohen mention that he was diagnosed with MS ten years before they met.
But while she did come across as a normal, down-to-earth professional, wife and mother of three, any hint of her liberal politics was air-brushed from the portrait. No mention of Vieira's participation in an anti-war, anti-Bush demonstration at the 2004 GOP convention.
And while Katie Couric was tagged as "perky," I'd say she was in many ways a cautious and button-downed professional. Vieira gave a couple indications that she might have a looser approach. In the opening segment she boasted that she would be "the broad in broadcasting." Later, she flashed a People magazine photo of Matt Lauer on the beach. In discussing the fact that President Bush asked Matt to autograph the photo during a recent interview, Meredith said of the president: "He's turned on by your abs, honey."