Why Listening Is Key When Dealing With Sitting Presidents: "You can hypothesize about how someone's going to answer a question, but sometimes you're not right and you have to have the ability to think on your feet or respond to an answer that's completely unexpected. You've got to have laserlike focus. It's quite nerve-racking. No matter how many presidents I've interviewed, I still get the butterflies before I do it. I was very impressed by how intellectually facile Bill Clinton is. You know, he is wicked smart, as they would say, and gets a little prickly when challenged. I would say President George W. Bush was incredibly comfortable off camera but not comfortable on camera. President Obama will admit it's really hard for him to talk in sound bites, so you have to kind of walk that fine line of interjecting but not interrupting, if that makes sense. You've gotta look for that one moment when someone's taking a breath and just go in there. They were all really interesting in different ways. Even if you challenge them, they appreciated the opportunity to make their position known by a wide audience. Oh, by the way, I can say that Ross Perot was very difficult to interview, because he was very belligerent when challenged. Yeah, very. He said I was trying to prove my manhood when I asked him hard questions…which is a whole 'nother Oprah."
ELLE: Did you have an assignment during your early years that you felt you botched but that taught you something valuable that has shaped the way you work today?
Katie Couric: During my first on-air experience for CNN, I was absolutely horrible; I had never been on television before, and I had no idea what I was doing. They told me to go to the White House and discuss what the president was doing that day. And I basically pulled the AP wire and read it, for the most part. When I got back to the bureau, the head of CNN called the assignment desk and said he never wanted to see me on the air again. It was quite devastating. He thought I wasn't ready, and he was right. It's better to know what you're doing than to crash and burn because you're in over your head. It forced me to get better, and as a result when opportunities presented themselves, I had the experience.
ELLE: Your 2008 interview series with Sarah Palin has become an iconic moment in political journalism. When you're getting something really good from somebody on camera, is there a feeling that comes over you? Do you know that you're capturing a great moment on TV?
KC: Usually I'm so focused on doing the interview-asking the questions, getting the answers-that I don't think, Oh, this is incredible. With Governor Palin, I saw her more as a person than as a government official and I thought, Wow, she's having a hard time. I wasn't sure how it would play-you know, she's very polarizing. I thought her supporters would still support her and that those who didn't like her would dislike her more. And I think it had a big impact on undecided voters, who really hadn't made up their minds yet. But if you get too tripped up on, Wow, this is a great television moment, it would break your concentration. You have to be present. Though I certainly was cognizant of the fact that she was having a difficult time with some of the questions.
ELLE: You left your post at the CBS Evening News last year. Do you miss sitting in the anchor chair?
KC: I think it felt very restricting to me and confining. I'm really, really glad I did it-I got to cover some amazing news stories. I got to be on the forefront of the earthquake in Haiti and the Arab uprising in Tahrir Square, and obviously one of the most historic elections in history. I feel very privileged that I was able to do it, that I sat in the chair, and I also feel great that I realized it wasn't necessarily the best use of my talent. And I think that's a really important lesson for people-that they have to be honest with themselves and what gives them joy. I'm much better suited to a more interactive format, where I can be a little more spontaneous and conversational and relaxed. And I think it wasn't a perfect fit, but I had a lot of fun trying on the suit.
ELLE: What part of moving to daytime are you looking forward to?
KC: I always say I'm five miles wide and half an inch deep-I'm a real generalist-but I think I've had experiences in my life and lived a life that has helped me figure out the questions people would want to ask in the audience. I've become pretty good at trying to synthesize complicated topics and make them accessible and understandable, which is really needed in an environment where we're being accosted with information fast and furiously on a daily basis. So I'm really looking forward to it. It's still a work in progress, kind of figuring it out, but I can't wait.
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