10 Plus 1: Linda Mason Answers Our Standard Questions -- And Yours

(CBS)
While she's certainly busy (and not just with responding to inquiries from Public Eye) Linda Mason, senior vice president of standards and special projects at CBS News, has taken the time to answer our questions and yours as part of our regular 10 plus 1 feature. What did she do when Vietnamese dissidents threatened to assassinate Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf in the middle of a shoot in Saigon? What does she think of Mary Mapes' new book? Read on to find out.

So, what do you do for a living?
I feel very lucky. I come to work most days to confront totally new situations at CBS News. I have a very varied portfolio made possible by my lengthy career at CBS News. I have worked at more than 10 broadcast units in various positions—from radio to television, from hard news to documentaries to magazine programs—and that gives me insight into numerous problems that occur in news production. I try to use that knowledge to help producers on all broadcasts on a variety of subjects—from standards, to legal issues, to how to go about getting critical elements. I just finished conducting more than 19 standards sessions with CBS News bureaus and broadcasts and am now tweaking the standards book. I screen all "60 Minutes" and "48 Hours" segments before they air. Because I was the first woman in most of the jobs I have had at CBS News, I feel an affinity for minority journalists and am very active in the CBS News diversity program. I also oversee the CBS News internship program. The CBS News Archives report to me and I head up the Decision Desk on Election Nights.

What is not being covered enough at CBS News?
I think we've become more reactive in covering the news and haven't been able to devote the time and effort to break stories or to do more serious investigative reporting.

What's the strangest thing that has ever happened to you on the job?
I think every assignment in the field has its strange aspects. But here are two of the scarier ones that I remember:

I was in Saigon with Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf and Dan Rather when our stringer came to me and said there are dissident factions of Vietnamese who are planning to assassinate the general NOW for his role during the Vietnam War. I was really shaken and left it to Gen. Schwarzkopf to decide if we continue or not. He agreed to continue the shoot and there were no incidents.

I was in Beijing right before the massacre at Tiananmen Square. We could see the students and the workers marching in the streets with banners proclaiming freedom. I was in a car with a huge cell phone (the battery in those days was a big as a cigar box) with Charles Kuralt and a Chinese driver who spoke no English. I could call our temporary office at a Beijing hotel or our offices in New York. Charles and I felt all alone in this enormous sea of people, but it was exhilarating. However, by the end of the week, the soldiers came to put down the demos and hope was dashed. The Chinese government pulled the plug and we could no longer transmit pictures from Beijing.

If you had 10 broken fingers and no gas in the car, which colleague would you want to be there?
I would welcome any CBS News camera crew since the crews are some of the most resourceful people I know and they can get the impossible done, with almost nothing at hand.

If you were not in news, what would you be doing?
Probably a lawyer or a teacher.

What is the biggest change at CBS during the time you've been here?
The technology. When I first came to CBS News, film was the medium. It took a day to develop and another day to edit and prepare the report. The war in Vietnam was in full swing and each night the "Evening News" would report the war news, and the next evening the "Evening News" would show the film package of the story reported the night before. During the first Iraq war, I was in the control room for the Sunday night 11 o'clock news as we took in the first LIVE pictures of American troops entering Kuwait. It took hours for the equipment on the rigged-out truck to find the satellite footprint and transmit the pictures. But it was thrilling. Today of course, we can broadcast from almost anywhere in the world, at any time, with miniature cameras and dishes and even satellite phones that transmit pictures.

What are the last three books you've read or the last three movies you've seen
"The Constant Gardener"; "Good Night, and Good Luck"; "Proof"

What is your first memory of TV news?
My first memory of TV news was actually not news, but Walter Cronkite on "You Are There." The televised event that totally blew me away and turned from a career in print journalism to one in broadcast journalism was the assassination of President John F Kennedy. The impact was so immediate. You didn't have to read about it.

Would you want your child to go into the news business?
If they wanted to, although neither of my daughters does. For me, it is the most stimulating, challenging and rewarding profession I can imagine.

Who is the most fascinating person you've covered and who is the biggest jerk?
There have been many in my long career. A few fascinating folks: Pablo Casals, the cellist playing the piano in an old barn in the Berkshires and then granting an interview; spending almost 40 hours with Fidel Castro as he took us all over Cuba, from the Sierra Madre mountains where the revolution began to today in Havana; some Navy SEALS who shared the unbelievable stories of their undercover activities behind the lines in Vietnam; a former mobster in the witness protection program who laundered money for a mobster with connections in the music business.

As for jerks, I know there were some, but I don't remember them.

And finally, a question from twoconcepts: "Please -- what's your honest, emotional, unsanitized reaction to Mary Mapes' book?"
I guess I was surprised that a year later, after all the work and thought it takes to write a book, that Mary has no sense of what she did wrong and chooses to blame everyone except herself for the faulty reporting and consequent scandal that turned CBS News inside out.

  • Hillary Profita

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