National Review's Rich Lowry interviewed McCain campaign manager Rick Davis for a campaign post-mortem (sick of those yet?) in the upcoming issue of the magazine. He posted a few of the more striking takeaways on the NRO's The Corner blog. One that particularly caught my eye:
On the Couric interview, which Davis says Palin thought would be softer because she was being interviewed by a woman: "She was under the impression the Couric thing was going to be easier than it was. Everyone's guard was down for the Couric interview."
If true, that strikes me as remarkably misguided -- not to mention disappointing coming from a self-described "pitbull" who, if elected, could have found herself in some very tough negotiations. (Should she have been expected to go easy on Dmitry Medvedev?) In fact, I see every reason to have assumed the opposite -- that, as a woman, Couric could actually be tougher on Palin than a male interviewer could because she ran less of a risk of seeming bullying or condescending (as ABC's Charles Gibson did at times during his Palin sitdown, peering over his spectacles like a disappointed college professor when Palin failed to answer his questions in a satisfactory manner).
What's more, Couric had high stakes of her own. CBS usually ranks a distant third in the network news ratings wars. But given the interest in the GOP VP nominee about 10% more people tuned in to the Palin interview broadcasts than had watched CBS evening news the previous week (and that's not counting the millions of internet users who viewed the clips online). Since Couric took over the CBS newscast in fall of 2006, reviews of her performance have been decidedly mixed -- leading to rumors this spring that her job was on the chopping block. Softballing Palin could only make her look like a lightweight and generate even more criticism of her news cred. But giving a tough, fair, newsy interview could potentially convince some new viewers to stick around -- and prove her mettle while everyone was watching. And she pulled it off.
But, no. Female interviewer = softer. Not the biggest mistake the McCain campaign made, but a telling one nonetheless.