Denzel made journalist Katie Couric ‘uncomfortable’ with her questions
Should journalists feel ‘shaken’ when interviewees challenge their questions?
When I am in need of a good laugh, one of the first places I go is the “Overheard in a Newsroom” Twitter account. I have not worked in a traditional newsroom since 2013. (I still work in a journalism capacity for private companies, mainly law firms, online news startups, marketing projects and retail publications.)
But there’s something about trading jabs and hearing the most random comments yelled across a newsroom that warms my heart. There are parts of traditional journalism that I absolutely adore and other parts that leave much to be desired. One of the primary cons is the public largely blaming journalism for damn near everything. Someone robs a bank: It’s journalism’s fault. A politician starts asking people to swallow disinfectant: It’s journalism’s fault.
But we take those punches and keep on going — asking uncomfortable questions, brushing off rude answers and pressing to get the real answer instead of copying and pasting what someone on Wikipedia said. You know what else we’ll sometimes do behind the scenes? Complain to our peers about how wild or odd our interviewees are, especially in entertainment (and political) journalism. You tell me an artist trending on Twitter — from big names to small ones — and I’ll probably have a story I will not tell you.
(And sometimes I will.) I can say with certainty that as a former entertainment reporter, there have been a handful of writers, rappers and singers who single-handedly made me stop being a fan. But with that said, there are plenty more pleasant ones who made me more of a fan for being absolutely delightful. (Hello, Heather Headley and Ne-Yo!)
However, as an interviewer who has covered just about every topic one reads in a newspaper — minus minimal sports news — I’m a bit perplexed by journalist Katie Couric’s complaint about actor Denzel Washington. It’s not so much that she was “uncomfortable” by him challenging a question of hers, but that she held onto this feeling for 16 years.
For those who are unaware of the trending topic, Katie Couric was “uncomfortable” with Denzel Washington challenging her line of questions about “Hollywood folks” getting involved in politics. But from the 2004 dateline interview, there was already some banter going on regarding everything from the evils of money, Jesus, communism and the War in Iraq. In other words, this group discussion (with Meryl Streep and Jonathan Demme) wasn’t lightweight to begin with.
But the part that Katie Couric was up in arms about was this:
After reading this back-and-forth and hearing that Katie Couric felt “the experience was ‘uncomfortable’ and said she believes Washington ‘totally misconstrued a question I asked and kind of jumped all over me,’” my first thought was: “I can think of five more interviews with celebrities I personally interviewed that were way more tense than this.” I didn’t start working in traditional journalism until 2008 (and 2005, if you count independent sites). Meanwhile Katie Couric has been doing this since the ’90s. But never mind me. Journalist Gayle King literally got spit on during an interview with singer R. Kelly and joked about it on Showtime’s “Desus & Mero.” This happened all while the Chicago artist (who is currently in prison for multiple sex crime charges) was shouting and punching the air, and she kept her cool.
If there was ever an entertainment interview to be “uncomfortable” in, that’d be the one. Now this doesn’t mean that journalists should just expect to be put in awkward circumstances, but anyone who isn’t a newbie to the industry shouldn’t be particularly surprised when they are.