Former NBC News anchor and Today show host Katie Couric had quite an exchange with Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg on Tuesday, asking her whether Sandberg’s book Lean In “put too much of the onus on women to change.”
Appearing at Vanity Fair’s New Establishment summit in Beverly Hills, Couric, according to Variety, pitched a “relentless series of hardball questions” to Facebook’s chief operating officer, grilling her on everything from how Facebook plans to combat fake news and election interference to whether Sandberg was worried about her “personal legacy” because of her prominent role at a company that is now widely reviled.
Couric’s questions on Sandberg’s book Lean In were described by Variety, in a truly delightful write-up, as “signal[ing] to a bewildered crowd that, maybe, it was time to check email or hit the coffee bar before the next panel”—because who wants to hear Sandberg drone on about empowerment, after all! But at this point, Couric decided to press Sandberg on some of the weaknesses of the Lean In philosophy.
“What can we do about the increasing unwillingness of men to mentor their female colleagues?” Couric asked.
“The Me Too movement is so important because women have faced too much harassment for too long,” Sandberg replied. (True, Sheryl!) She then added, “That said, we have to worry about the unintended consequences.” (Uh oh!)
One of those “unintended consequences” that Sandberg referred to? A survey by the Lean In Foundation and Survey Monkey, according to Sandberg, found that “60 percent of male managers in the United States are not willing right now, are nervous, about having a one-on-one interaction with a woman.” Per Variety, “Sandberg urged men in power to foster equal access to all their employees, even if that means eliminating private meetings and opting for ‘group lunches.’”
Couric soldiered on.
“Given the systemic failures of so many organizations that we’ve seen, that have tolerated sexual misconduct and harassment, silenced women through NDAs—do you think, in retrospect, given the very real revelations that have surfaced as a result of the Me Too movement, Lean In might have put too much of the onus on women to change, instead of getting a lot of these screwed-up companies to change?” Couric asked Sandberg.
Screwed-up companies! For Couric, that’s the equivalent of her saying “fucking shitbag cunts.” According to Variety, this question “silenced the auditorium,” especially in light of the revelations pouring forth from Ronan Farrow’s book Catch and Kill on the role of NBC executives in protecting Couric’s former co-host Matt Lauer.
Sandberg responded, essentially telling Couric to read her goddamn book! “We’ve always done both. One of the problems with the word ‘Lean In’ is that you can really oversimplify without actually reading the book itself,” Sandberg responded. “But if you read, actually, what we’ve written and the work my foundation has done—what we’ve always said is that we want it to be OK for women to be ambitious, and we want companies to change. It has to be both.”
Couric comes off here as a capable interviewer. But let’s not forget that Couric still has a lot of explaining to do for her defense of Matt Lauer in the beginning of 2018, shortly after he was fired. “I had no idea this was going on during my tenure or after I left,” she told People. “I think I speak for many of my former colleagues when I say this was not the Matt we knew. Matt was a kind and generous colleague who treated me with respect.” I guess she viewed his alleged penchant to pinch her on the ass as a huge sign of respect!