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Katie Couric Witnessed The Ugly Side of America First Hand, Including ‘Urine Bombs’ — Turn It On Podcast

But in talking to people for Nat Geo's "America Inside Out," she also found inspiration during troubled times. Couric on the state of journalism, the takeaway from attacks on her gun documentary, the state of #MeToo and more.

Washington, DC - Katie Couric. (National Geographic/Rebecca Hale)

Katie Couric

National Geographic/Rebecca Hale

Katie Couric was taping an episode of her new National Geographic docuseries in Charlottesville, Va., last year when the alt-right protest there turned violent. One of her camera operators was hit with a “urine bomb” — something Couric had never even heard of until that day.

“It was scary, I was scared,” Couric told IndieWire’s TURN IT ON podcast. “The number of guns that were there, with an open carry state, and the number of various Neo-Nazi groups, it was quite terrifying. The scariest things was the number of young men who participated in this. Young men in their 20s, which was unsettling to say the least.”

A year after her landmark documentary “Gender Revolution,” Couric is back on National Geographic channel to explore some of the most important issues and questions facing America today. In “America Inside Out with Katie Couric,” the former “Today” and “CBS Evening News” anchor once again travels around the country to get some insight into what people are thinking and doing in response to the changing national culture.

Among the topics she looks at are gender inequality, Muslims in America, political correctness, white working-class anxiety, how technology is affecting our humanity and the battle over Confederate monuments and statues.

It was that episode, about the Confederate monuments debate, that brought Couric to Charlottesville — a familiar spot to her, as a University of Virginia graduate.

“In many ways the statues are a proxy for race in America and for how we choose to remember our past and choose to characterize our past,” she said. “It was very surreal and incredibly upsetting but really important to explore and examine and to expose. So I was in a way grateful to bear witness to what happened and to be confronted with this very ugly side of this country that’s been unleashed in this recent months.”

IndieWire’s TURN IT ON sat down with Couric earlier this year to discuss her new series, her time in Charlottesville, the state of journalism, the lessons learned from the controversy over her documentary “Under the Gun,” the state of the #MeToo/Time’s Up movements and how she felt pressured to have to respond to the allegations against her former Today co-anchor Matt Lauer. Listen below!

As a longtime journalist and broadcaster, Couric admits that it’s “really quite distressing and depressing” that the country is so divided, and living in various information (or lack of information) bubbles.

“I was thinking about a speech I gave, about people being warmed by their own ideology like they’re in a convection oven,” she said. “As a friend of mine says, people are seeking affirmation not information. And it’s a real problem. I don’t know how we deal with it. This series is not going to change that. But I think everyone, we all have to make an effort to reach across the aisle and try to have constructive conversations.”

Raleigh, NC - Katie Couric (L) visits the Islamic Association of Raleigh. (National Geographic/Ben McKeown)

Katie Couric visits the Islamic Association of Raleigh

National Geographic/Ben McKeown

Couric experienced it first hand with the recent controversy over her Epix documentary “Under the Gun,” as one editing trick allowed critics to dismiss the entire message of smart and sensible gun reform. “It’s too bad,” she said. “I reached out to them, my hope was that people would understand their point of view and I think it obviously backfired in terms of the way it was put together. It’s a risk when you take on these big controversial topics but somebody has to do it and I hope more people try.”

She also noted that in this “strange and unsettling time,” we’re seeing some of the best journalism in our lifetimes, thanks to “places like the Washington Post and the New York Times and The Atlantic, and all kinds of publications that are doing deep dives and trying to give people context and greater perspective.” But because the way people consume news has changed, so much has become superficial, and there isn’t time for information to sink in and connect the dots.

“It’s important for people to understand that legitimate news organizations with high standards can’t be tarred by the fake news brush,” she said. “I think there needs to be a counter narrative by people who really care about and believe in a free press and that it’s essential for our democracy.”

Meanwhile, noting that one episode of “America Inside Out” explores what modern technology and this social media age might be doing to our minds and bodies, Couric is reminded of the infamous 1994 “Today” show clip, which went viral decades later, in which she and Bryant Gumbel don’t understand what the Internet is.

“I did sound like an idiot and so did Bryant in fairness, but I think a lot of people never imagined the speed and the breadth of the internet and what it would mean for us in so many aspects of our lives,” Couric said.

“America Inside Out with Katie Couric” airs Wednesdays on National Geographic. 

(Photo: National Geographic/Tom Daly)

“America Inside Out”

National Geographic/Tom Daly

IndieWire’s “TURN IT ON with Michael Schneider” is a weekly dive into what’s new and what’s now on TV — no matter what you’re watching or where you’re watching it. With an enormous amount of choices overwhelming even the most sophisticated viewer, “TURN IT ON” is a must-listen for TV fans looking to make sense of what to watch and where to watch it.

Be sure to subscribe to “TURN IT ON” on iTunes, Stitcher, Soundcloud or anywhere you download podcasts. New episodes post every week.

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