Ed Driscoll

Katie Couric: Vaccine Truther?

Time magazine asks, “Is Katie Couric The Next Jenny McCarthy?”

There is no “HPV Vaccine Controversy.” At least, not when it comes to the injection’s safety. And yet, that was the title of the lead segment on Katie Couric’s daytime talk show, “Katie,” this afternoon. The nearly half-hour story, which the program called their “Big Conversation,” centered around two mothers who believe the vaccine for human papillomavirus (HPV) harmed their daughters.

Among the guests were Emily Tarsell, a mother who claims the death of her daughter, Christina, was caused by the HPV vaccine Gardasil in 2008. Another mother and daughter pair, Rosemary and Lauren Mathis, believe Lauren developed a bizarre illness characterized by nausea and fatigue due to the vaccine. Rosemary Mathis is now the director of the anti-HPV organization, SaneVax, Inc.

Tarsell and Mathis are understandably distraught mothers. But Couric is a journalist.

Well, when she’s not wearing her propaganda hat, that is:

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And it’s not like Time magazine’s hands are clean either, when it comes to bad healthcare advice:

Of course having already worn out her welcome at NBC and CBS, at this point, Couric is merely playing out the string on her ABC contract, before she moves on to her bold new experiment in online journalism at Yahoo. Back in 2005, former Ladies Home Journal editor Myrna Blyth described the ego that came with the dizzying heights that Couric travailed at the peak of her career:

In her “I’m just like you” phase Katie used to give speeches to adoring audiences describing a typical day in her life. She would tell them, for example, that she was on the phone setting up a play-date for one of her daughters like an ordinary mom, when a staffer beeped her to tell her President Carter was on the line. “President Carter who just won the Nobel Prize? Okay, put him on.” He was calling, she would confide, throwing all modesty to the winds, to thank her for all she had done for him over the years. Yep, just an ordinary mom with a $15-million-a-year paycheck, a Park Avenue co-op, a millionaire boyfriend, a high-priced personal trainer, and the power to control two prime hours of TV five mornings a week.

Andrew Lack, former president of NBC, described Katie, during the good times, as a “fist in the velvet glove,” while for years her staff has called her “Katie Dearest.” Bryant Gumbel, who was considered the heavy when they were Today Show co-anchors once complained, “I’ve had one assistant for 18 years. Somebody who shall remain nameless went through five in five years. I had one makeup and hair person the whole time I was at NBC. Somebody who shall remain nameless went through three or four.” Katie has also pushed out several of Today‘s executive producers, sending one packing just last week. The show has had four top producers since 2001. Here-Today-gone-tomorrow has now become a career path at NBC.

When I was a magazine editor, in my personal dealings with Katie I found her both demanding and petulant. But the stress of crashing ratings has obviously made her inner Cruella de Vil — always there under the surface — emerge full-time. Alessandra Stanley writes, “Lately her image has grown downright scary: America’s girl next door has morphed into the mercurial diva down the hall. At the first sound of her peremptory voice and clickety stiletto hells, people dart behind doors and douse the lights.”

Note that one likely reason why Time magazine feels it’s safe to take potshots at Couric is that she wasn’t hired by CNN, now controlled by former NBC exec Jeff Zucker, which is part of the same conglomerate that controls Time-Warner-CNN-HBO.

Zucker knew what he would be getting into again. I hope Yahoo does as well.