At one point, during our Zoom interview, Katie Couric gets a text.
“Oh god. Rabbi Shmuley just texted me: ‘Does it mention Michael asking you out?’” she says with a laugh.
It does. In her new memoir, “Going There,” Couric recounts that Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, Michael Jackson’s spiritual adviser, once called, saying Jackson would “love to take you out to dinner.” She accepted “in hopes of snagging an interview.” It’s as awkward as you’d expect.
Describing a date with Michael Jackson is par for the course in this buzzy memoir.
The book officially released Tuesday, and Couric kicks off her national book tour at Boston’s Orpheum on Thursday. The longtime TV journalist will be in conversation with Tan France of Netflix’s “Queer Eye.” As part of the event, Couric also will interview Boston Marathon bombing survivor Celeste Corcoran and her sister Carmen Acabbo, she said.
“Going There” is packed with boldface names, including chapters devoted to Couric’s former “Today” show cohost Matt Lauer. Couric includes some of their text exchanges in 2017, when he was fired from the show amid allegations of sexual misconduct and assault.
She also describes a network newsroom atmosphere from the era before #MeToo. “I’d say the whole book is a reflection about larger cultural systems and how they’re in the midst of changing,” she told me.
She recalls a CNN staff meeting where an executive announced Couric was “successful because of her determination, hard work, intelligence, and … breast size.” (She and a male coworker later typed a message on an IBM Selectric asking for an apology.)
She writes that former coworker and TV journalist Bryant Gumbel, a “macho macho man,” once questioned why she needed such a long maternity leave. She quotes him as saying: “Your ancestors didn’t worry about that ‘shock to your body’; they came right back and worked.” She writes: “Classic Bryant. He loved to needle me.”
She needled back. When Michelle Pfeiffer was on “Today,” she writes that Gumbel said off-air: “I’d drink her bathwater.” On-air, Couric quipped: “‘Bryant, didn’t you say you’d drink her bathwater?’ He was furious. I thought it was funny.”
Lauer, she writes, “was less of a chauvinist than Bryant.”
Couric learned how to play ball in the boys club, with “cheeky” humor. In “Going There,” she recalls a time Willard Scott reported live from a horny toad convention, and threw it back to the anchor desk. Couric quipped: “Hey, speaking of horny toads, Gene Shalit just walked into the studio.” She earned laughs and bigger ratings.
On her competition with TV journalist Diane Sawyer, she writes: “Apparently one day while watching me, [Sawyer] said to no one in particular, ‘That woman must be stopped.’ A ‘Today’ show producer gave me a pillow she’d had printed with the quote, signed D.S.”
When she started as a correspondent at “60 Minutes” after she’d been hired away by CBS, a producer “who resembled Timon” from ”The Lion King” told her: “The Mantra here at ‘60 Minutes’ is ‘Someone else’s success diminished you. Someone else’s failure elevates you.’ I’m about as competitive as they come, but seriously?”
The book also reveals professional embarrassments, from a “boneheaded” decision to dress as a homeless person and dive for pennies on air, to her admission of editing an interview to protect the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. That decision has been much discussed, including on NPR.
Her personal life is on display, too. When, as a young reporter, she covers a press conference with screenwriter Neil Simon, she was “determined to get him to notice me … I swiped on my go-to Max Factor Frosty Cola lipstick.” He ends up calling her. On their second date, “he started kissing me and —well, that’s as far as it got. Neil Simon’s three-word explanation: ‘Blood pressure medication.’”
On a date with Larry King in her late 20s, they go to dinner, and back to his place. “I was trying to figure out an exit strategy when suddenly — boom! — the lunge. The tongue. The hands.”
She also discusses family life — her marriage to Jay Monahan, the birth of their two daughters, his death at 42 from colon cancer.
After Monahan died, her dating life included Harvard grad Tom Werner. When they dated in the early 2000s, “he was negotiating with a group to buy the Red Sox,” Couric writes. Eventually, Werner writes her a “Dear Katie” letter, which she burns in her bathroom sink. She calls him a “textbook narcissist.” In 2014, Couric married banker John Molner.
She reveals that her grandmother “was a racist” who “bequeathed” her father a KKK novel, inscribing: “This is such a valuable and beautiful book … ” Her daughter later found the book and “is still processing the shock, as am I,” she writes.
By the time I interview Katie Couric, my copy of “Going There” is heavily highlighted and peppered with notes.
Q: This book is really candid.
A: Too candid! [laughs]
Q: So why write this now?
A: I’m 64, I’ve always thought about writing a book, I’ve had these incredible life experiences. I’ve dealt with tragedy, triumphs, failures. I thought it was time for me to put pen to paper, think on them, reflect, share them. We’re at an interesting cultural moment where we’ve seen huge societal changes. It felt like the right time to look back and take stock.
Q: Is there anything you regret sharing?
A: No. I think that I was thoughtful. There were things I included that weren’t always flattering, but that’s OK. I didn’t want to do some kind of victory lap. What does Socrates say, “An unexamined life is not worth living?” I did a very very thorough exam.
Q: You’ve dealt with a lot of sexism.
A: You have to remember I graduated from college in 1979, and I think women were really still finding their way in the workplace. I was laughing with my friend about how we wore these little bowties, silk bowties with our blazers and skirts and walked to work in our running shoes, and then changed into our sensible pumps. [laughs] So I think you have to kind of put everything in perspective, in context of time and where we were as a society and culture.
Q: What’s your relationship now with Matt Lauer?
A: We have no relationship.
Q: Not speaking at all?
Q: That whole segment of your life must have been tough.
A: It was. It was a very painful time, but a time of tremendous personal growth. I set out to examine the culture, things that needed to change, systems that existed. It was a difficult time, but a useful time.
Q: Your section on Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been much discussed. You lost sleep over that.
A: I did. I think I wanted to say that judgements are imperfect sometimes. Because journalists also happen to be human beings, contrary to popular belief. I wrestled with it, and still wrestle with it, and wonder if I made the right decision. I welcome a conversation about it.
Q: Any other realizations while writing?
A: I think all of us are acknowledging our own cultural conditioning and how we’re all a product of our environment and our circumstances. So I’ve thought a lot about that — reevaluating attitudes that existed 30 or 40 years ago, that are finally, happily, changing. That meant considering where I was coming from and where the systems were at the time, and what was wrong with those systems. And how they needed to be changed or altered or improved.
Q: A lot of this reminded me of “The Morning Show.”
Q: Does that show’s portrayal of the profession seem realistic?
A: I think there are moments that seem realistic. It’s a fictional show, but there are certain aspects of it — I mean I can’t do a whole treatise and analysis of “The Morning Show,” but I think there are some things that ring true.
Q: Can you explain why Bryant Gumbel seemed more chauvinist to you than Matt Lauer?
A: I think probably people watching might have gotten that vibe. I don’t know how old you are, Lauren, but, listen, I have so much respect for Bryant — I talk about what a consummate professional he is and was — but this was the early ‘90s and I think there were certain attitudes he wasn’t immune to.
Q: The comment about your breasts at a CNN meeting was a shocking example.
A: That took a fair amount of chutzpah, didn’t it? That really reinforces the import of male allies and the importance of people who say, “This is not acceptable.”
I’ve done that during numerous times in my career — coaching women to come forward, to say something if they feel something was inappropriate. I’ve tried to teach women to stand up for themselves.
Q: You talk about your past struggles with bulimia. Had you discussed that before?
A: In passing. I kept it under the radar. I dedicated this book to my daughters and I wanted to be radically transparent. I wanted to be honest and reflect on a life in full, and a person in full, who has strengths and weaknesses and imperfections, has made good decisions and bad, because what would the point be to write anything else? I didn’t want this to be ‘my greatest hits.’ That would be incredibly boring and self-indulgent.
Q: You also opened up about your grandmother’s racism.
A: I’m a big believer in acknowledging and confronting the past to move forward. I hope I’ve been able to model some of that for other people. It’s not easy. It’s absolutely mortifying. But I think it’s an important part of moving forward.
Couric appears at the Orpheum Theatre on Thursday at 7:30 pm. Tickets start at $25; crossroadspresents.com/pages/orpheum-theatre
Interview has been edited and condensed.