10 Plus 1: Holding Court

(CBS)
"60 Minutes" producer Andy Court has gone from high school journalist to Jerusalem Post reporter to editorial director of The American Lawyer magazine to Emmy-winning producer at Dateline NBC and "60 Minutes." And now, perhaps, his finest moment: Answering a few questions for Public Eye. Below, Andy talks about his job, his kids, and his take on the media bias question.

So, what do you do for a living?

I've got a great job. I travel all over the country, all over the world really, talking to people and trying to figure things out. A lot of work goes into making a "60 Minutes" story – reporting, directing, writing – and a producer is involved in all of it.
What is not being covered enough at CBS News?
Generally speaking, we have trouble covering things that are important but not particularly dramatic. Subjects like taxes, pensions, deficits, education, and health insurance don't get as much attention as they should.
What's the strangest thing that has ever happened to you on the job?
Once, before I came to "60 Minutes," I was in Sudan after the U.S. had launched cruise missiles against what it said was a chemical weapons factory. All the news reports said one person had been killed. I asked to meet the man's family and see his grave. "O.K.," the government representative said. "We'll take you to the man who died." I thought it was just an error in his English. But instead of taking me to the grave or the man's family, sure enough, he took me to a local hospital and introduced me to "the man who died." The whole world thought he was dead, but here I was talking to him. He was injured, but reports of his death had been greatly exaggerated.
If you had 10 broken fingers and no gas in the car, which colleague would you want to be there?
My associate producer, Keith Sharman, no question. We've been working together as a team for about a year now. He's a really smart guy, and this job wouldn't be half as much fun without him, even if he does give me a hard time about all the junk food I eat.
If you were not in news, what would you be doing?
I'd probably become involved in education. I'm very interested in ways that interactive technology (the same kind of technology that drives video games) can be used to make classroom education more dynamic.
What is the biggest change at CBS during the time you've been here?
I joined CBS News when the whole controversy about the "60 Minutes II" story on President Bush's National Guard service was coming to a head. Morale was really low. It's completely different now. This is going to sound like I'm being a "company man," but I swear to you that's not my nature. The truth is, there's a real sense of optimism at CBS News these days. There's a feeling that our best days are right ahead of us.
What are the last three books you've read or the last three movies you've seen?
"1776," by David McCullough
"Peace Like A River," by Leif Enger
"The Count of Monte Cristo," by Alexandre Dumas (my eight-year-old and I are reading the unabridged version together).
What is your first memory of TV News?
I have no early memories of TV news whatsoever. Unless you consider "Speed Racer," and "Gigantor the great big robot," news.
Would you want your child to go into the news business?
It's up to them. (I've got three daughters.) But, honestly, probably not. I'd rather they be doctors.
Who is the most fascinating person you've covered and who is the biggest jerk?
I once worked on a story with Correspondent Steve Kroft about a woman named Rosanne Haggerty, whose organization, Common Ground Community, took hideous welfare hotels and turned them into places where people who were recently homeless not only managed to stay off the street, but actually got jobs and put their lives back together. We called it, "Miracle on 43nd Street," and it really was miraculous to see not only how much the buildings had changed, but how much the people had too. I guess I'm fascinated by people who quietly manage to do a lot of good in this world.

Biggest jerk is a hard one. Off the top of my head, I can't think of one outstanding jerk. Lots of little ones (jerks of the week), but no one who merits special consideration here.

Now a (slightly edited) question from reader Chester W.:

"60 Minutes" has a long standing tradition in seeking out the facts on stories that greatly effect public opinions in the world. Have you ever considered investigating the "60 Minutes" staff (or other news outlets like yours) to see if there really is a slant towards the democrats left wing policies?

We've never hesitated to investigate stories that we thought were misreported, or writers/reporters who betrayed their readers' trust. The question of political bias (left-wing or right-wing) is a much more difficult thing to investigate. Part of the problem is that "slant" is in the eye of the beholder. We'll do a story, and some of the viewers will write saying, "You left-wing liberal bums got it all wrong once again." And then there'll be other mail, for the exact same story, that says, "You right-wing patsies bought the administration's line hook and sinker. This kind of thing happens all the time.

I know why you're asking this question, and I am not trying to belittle your concern. But I want you to know we really try hard to get it right. We work long hours, poring over documents, talking to people on the phone. And if we don't get it right, it's usually not because of the "slant" that you've talking about, it's because there's something we weren't told, something we were not able to see. Remember, we're dealing with reality here. It's messy and complicated and there are things that everyone believes to be true but maybe they're not. One minute you're looking for a man's grave. The next minute, you're talking to him.