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Katie Couric on the Parkland Shooting and Laura Ingraham’s Comments About LeBron James

The journalist joined the ‘Larry Wilmore: Black on the Air’ podcast to discuss the power of statements given by Parkland students and the recent infamous “Shut up and dribble” segment on Fox News

Katie Couric Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Women in Cable Telecommunications

Katie Couric has had nearly every job in news. She’s been a host for programs on CBS, NBC, and ABC, and was the anchor of CBS Evening News for five years. She’s currently working on America Inside Out With Katie Couric, a six-part series dissecting domestic issues that will premiere in April. This week, Couric joined the Larry Wilmore: Black on the Air podcast to discuss a handful of recent events.

Listen to the full podcast here. This transcript has been edited and condensed.

On Laura Ingraham’s Comments About LeBron James

Couric: I think that people don’t argue things on the merits. They don’t have philosophical conversations about policy and attitudes. But it’s all very, very straight to the heart with the most hurtful thing you can possibly say, instead of having an actual conversation that’s respectable and respectful. It is a cultural shift, and it’s discouraging.

Wilmore: And we’re in an insulting culture, also. Like LeBron James, who -

Couric: Oh my god, I watched that whole thing.

Wilmore: He is inarguably the greatest player of our time right now, right? And also, LeBron James is a transcendent figure for his fans because he’s done so much in his community.

Couric: Hasn’t he given something like $41 million to [charity]?

Wilmore: Katie, it’s ridiculous what LeBron James—he doesn’t owe anyone an apology for what he’s done both on and off the court, right? He’s one of those people, he lives and breathes the type of example we want our sports figures to be. And he was talking about the president in this thing with Cari Champion, but he was speaking about the president in the context of leadership, not in terms of policy and politics and Democrat/Republican, not in those terms. LeBron James doesn’t have enough time for partisan politics; he’s not into that. But he was speaking about how when he was a kid—

Couric: Right, as a role model!

Wilmore: Yes, the people he looked up to. And as a kid, for him, it was president, sports figure, entertainer. For him, he was hoping those people would say the right things and be the people you look for. And he expressed the disappointment that the president wasn’t that for him. And then he’s attacked by Laura Ingraham, of all people, on her show. And the manner of her attack is what really disappointed me.

Because Laura Ingraham, she’s not unintelligent, she’s been in this game for a long time. She’s not a rookie. She’s had a radio show for years and years. She was one of the voices that spoke out against a lot of the neocon movement, in fact, in the early aughts. She wasn’t always a strict party person, she even spoke against her party. So she’s had political integrity, so why does she have to say things like, “This is a guy who decides to leave high school a year early,” which isn’t true—he finished high school. And is attacking him like he’s not intelligent, like his not going to college disqualifies him. And the “shut up and dribble” part is just so ridiculous. But to insult LeBron James—why are you insulting him? He’s not even talking about you. Why can’t his message just be embraced, or just ignored? Why does he have to be insulted?

Couric: I think it was sort of how demeaning her comments were that just felt—

Wilmore: But why do you have to insult him? Yes, why do you have to demean and insult?

Couric: I think because, as you said, we live in a culture that there’s so much intense animosity that it’s almost a tribal thing. It’s almost like, “Yes, I feel good.” This guy is wealthy. He, in their view, is disrespecting someone they like, and it has become such an us/them mentality. I was really upset by that, too.

Wilmore: It was disappointing.

Couric: And she went on the next night and talked about how she wasn’t a racist, but it did feel very—there felt like unmistakable racial undertones, or overtones, or both.

Wilmore: And I’ll be generous, I’m like, “Laura, if you don’t understand why that has racial implications, you need to do your homework. And I won’t even call you a racist for it, but you need to know why that’s not right. Because you need to look at the person who you’re saying it to.” And LeBron James—you would never tell Jesse Owens to shut up and triple jump. Or Jackie Robinson [to] shut up and steal bases. Why are you telling him to shut up and dribble?

Couric: What I thought was ironic is she wrote a book called Shut Up and Sing. So she was rationalizing it that way. … I think that what was really interesting is the idea that LeBron James cannot use his voice and express his opinion is so, I think, un-American. And I think somebody put together all the people who are not in politics speaking about politics on Fox News, from Fabio to Gene Simmons—

Wilmore: To Ted Nugent.

Couric: To Ted Nugent, to a lot of people. And so if you’re going to really feel that you have to be in the political sphere in order to express your opinion about the country, then that’s so hypocritical when you look at the people who have been on Fox.

Wilmore: Donald Trump himself was a contributor to Fox for years when he was doing the birther movement!

Couric: Yeah, so I was disappointed. Because I think you’re right, I think Laura Ingraham is highly educated, she went to UVA Law School.

Wilmore: That’s why I hope she’s better than that.

Couric: So if she wants to, obviously she has very specific views on things, but I felt like that was such a low blow and so below the belt, and I was disappointed, too.

On the Eloquence of the Survivors of the Parkland Shooting

Wilmore: If you look at the event that just happened in Parkland with these students, it’s their testimonials that make the event even more just I don’t know—not just harrowing but binding in a certain way where we’re connected to it you know?

Couric: I was talking to Mark Barden last night because someone reached out to me who was related to one of the moms who lost her daughter. Mark’s son Daniel was killed at Sandy Hook and, Mark has become a friend, and ... you can imagine what an incident like this does to a family who’s experienced it before. Just reopens so much pain. But we were saying that these kids have been really inspiring and remarkable in terms of their reaction and we were comparing it and saying that these high school students, you know they’re old enough to speak out, to use social media, and they’re young enough to still be idealistic that they can change things.

And it’s been, for me, just incredibly moving to watch them where you think of, we’re comparing it to these little first- and second-graders and their grief-stricken families. And even though the families of Sandy Hook tried to advance legislation and change things, and are making some progress on a state level, they didn’t have, tragically, [what] these high school students seem to [have] in this sweet spot of really talking about these issues. Their outrage is so palpable, and their anger is so raw, and their desire to change things is so inspiring. I’ve been really marveling at that.

Wilmore: I’ve always felt that many times people are most eloquent during traumatic events and I think it’s because many times a traumatic event will give you clarity.

Couric: Right. That strips away everything, doesn’t it?

Wilmore: It’s all artifice and it makes you very clear about things, and these young people are so inspiring to me. I’m emotional right now because they make me emotional when I hear their cries, because their eloquence is what touches me. They’re so clear about what the real issues are that their lives are being almost like a political ball right now.

Couric: Yeah and you kind of contrast them with the people who have been on Capitol Hill for decades and you know, bought and sold by the NRA and so warped in their perspective and so, I don’t know, narrow-minded and unopened to even a conversation and you contrast that with these sixteen, 17-year-old kids. I mean, these kids were fourteen years old.

Wilmore: It’s ridiculous.

Couric: It is. It is sickening. And I do think there are so many issues, there’s so much alienation, but access to guns is certainly a very key component to this—easy access to guns—and for people to say, “It’s just a mental health issue, or “It’s just this or just that.” It’s at the very core of it, it’s easy access to guns, but all these other things also need to be paid attention to. This loneliness, and you think about how connected people are through technology and yet they’re so isolated. And I think that there needs to be a reckoning of how kids are living and being raised, and I’m very interested in technology.