Katie Couric's Interview With John and Elizabeth Edwards

Last night on "60 Minutes," Katie Couric interviewed John and Elizabeth Edwards. Many of those who commented on the story on CBSNews.com felt that Couric was too hard on the couple.

"I was shocked and saddened at Katie Couric's lack of compassion and the nastiness of her questions," wrote "brlaks." Another commenter, "l8c6," called the interview "cold and improper," while "sharonc50" wrote, "I couldn't believe the hostility [Couric] showed towards the Edwards."

A portion of the commenters, meanwhile, defended Couric.

"Katie Couric asked the very tough questions that needed to be asked and gave the Edwards the opportunity to respond in full," wrote "kasey444." Commenter "fred7231," meanwhile, wrote "I'm quite surprised by the tone of the comments toward Katie Couric. She did her job."

Some viewers may have felt it unseemly to talk about the political implications of a health crisis like the one the Edwards family is now going through. But it is also necessary in light of the decision by the couple to stay in the presidential race. That decision prompts voters to consider all sorts of important questions, not least of which is whether John Edwards could run the country effectively while also dealing with his wife's illness.

As "fred7231" wrote, it is Couric's job to ask those questions. And it's the Edwards' responsibility to address them. If Couric had offered up softballs, she wouldn't have given the couple an opportunity to do so.

Another issue raised by some commenters was Couric's reliance on the journalistic convention of prefacing criticisms with the phrase "some say" instead of sourcing them to someone specific. Here's an example, from the interview, of what I'm talking about:

Couric: Your decision to stay in this race has been analyzed, and quite frankly judged by a lot of people. And some say, what you're doing is courageous, others say it's callous. Some say, "Isn't it wonderful they care for something greater than themselves?" And others say, "It's a case of insatiable ambition." You say?
Commenter "bb2881" wrote this in response: "Katie-stop using the fox news tactic of 'some people say' If you're going to ask 'tough' questions, be tough enough and have the guts to quote whoever is saying it." A number of commenters, expressing similar views, argued that Couric should have sourced the criticisms to conservatives like Rush Limbaugh.

The problem with this argument is that it's not just Limbaugh and his ilk who are raising many of these questions. To suggest that they are only coming from partisan commentators misrepresents the nature of the national conversation.

In a front page story on Saturday, the New York Times noted in a headline, "Public Takes Up Pros and Cons of Edwards Bid." The Times characterized the questions that people are asking this way: "Is Mr. Edwards now the presidential race's real embodiment of hope in all its audacity, or a symbol of blind ambition? A new profile in courage or a standard-bearer for callous disregard?" As much as the "some say" construction leaves something to be desired, it reflects the nature of the conversation now going on around the country.

UPDATE: Over at Couric & Co., Katie Couric discusses the interview. She writes in part: "I knew that everyone was reacting differently to this, and I wanted the Edwards to have a chance to elaborate and respond to issues people were raising. When the interview was over, the biggest complement came from Senator Edwards, who thanked me and said: 'You asked all the questions that were out there.' I think they appreciated having an opportunity to respond."